The Saudis and Trump
Elizabeth Dickinson reports on how the Saudis are trying to win over Trump. I was struck by this section:
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a powerful 30-something technocrat who manages everything from the Defense Ministry to economic reform, has spearheaded an effort to fortify the relationship. The deputy crown prince visited Washington in March to have lunch with Trump, in a meeting Mohammed bin Salman’s advisors proclaimed as a “historical turning point” in bilateral ties.
Insiders say the young prince sees a kindred spirit in Jared Kushner, a fellow 30-something with an oversized portfolio [bold mine-DL]. Kushner sat in on Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Mohammed bin Salman in March, and Saudi watchers are keen to see if he joins the president’s delegation to the kingdom this week.
There is a certain similarity between the two men in that both have been entrusted by their countries’ respective heads of state with responsibilities for which they are not remotely qualified, and both have been given great influence solely because of their relationship to the man in charge. The U.S. is fortunate that we are not (yet) reduced to putting children of the president in charge of the Defense Department, but the Saudi king did just that with his favorite son. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has been put in charge of many things since he was elevated to deputy crown prince, but the most significant of these has been the foolish decision to put him in charge of the Saudi defense ministry and the war on Yemen. Recently, he reminded everyone of how delusional the Saudi leadership is about that war and their ability to win it, but his reputation in Washington doesn’t seem to have been damaged by that.
If MBS is the public face of building closer U.S.-Saudi ties, he is also the poster boy for Saudi military incompetence and an atrocious war that the U.S. has shamefully backed to the hilt. His rise to prominence is a sign of much of what is wrong with the Kingdom, and that should be taken as a warning that the U.S. should be distancing itself from Riyadh rather than looking for ways to build a closer connection. If our leaders were wise, the prince’s attempt to “to spearhead the effort to regain Riyadh’s lost influence in Washington” would be rebuffed and the entire relationship would be reassessed.