There’s rea­son to doubt Saudi Ara­bia’s charm­ing new crown prince

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the 31-year-old who last week was named crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia, has been work­ing as­sid­u­ously to win friends and in­flu­ence peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton. He’s ac­quired a lot of ad­mir­ers, in­clud­ing in the Trump White House, by out­lin­ing plans to re­form and mod­ern­ize the Saudi econ­omy, loosen do­mes­tic so­cial con­trols and — not least — un­der­take tens of bil­lions of arms pur­chases in the United States.

Yet as Prince Sal­man for­mally takes po­si­tion to suc­ceed his 81-year-old fa­ther, King Sal­man, there is grow­ing rea­son for doubt about his ca­pa­bil­i­ties. His mar­ket-ori­ented eco­nomic re­forms look stalled. Mean­while, his ag­gres­sive ini­tia­tives in for­eign af­fairs are prov­ing self-de­feat­ing — and dam­ag­ing to the in­ter­ests of the United States.

As de­fense min­is­ter, Prince Sal­man has been closely as­so­ci­ated with Saudi Ara­bia’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men, which be­gan not long after his fa­ther as­cended to the throne in Jan­uary 2015. In ev­ery re­spect, the cam­paign has been a fail­ure. It has not achieved the de­clared aim of driv­ing Houthi forces from the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, and it has led to se­vere ca­su­al­ties caused by the bomb­ing of civil­ian tar­gets. Hu­man rights groups have ac­cused the Saudis and their al­lies, in­clud­ing the United Arab Emi­rates, of war crimes.

The worst hu­man­i­tar­ian crises Worst, the Saudi coali­tion has helped cre­ate one of the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian crises the world has seen in decades. Some 17 mil­lion Ye­me­nis are at risk of famine. A cholera epi­demic has in­fected more than 200,000 peo­ple since April, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. On aver­age, ac­cord­ing to UN re­port­ing, a child dies ev­ery 10 min­utes in Ye­men due to mal­nu­tri­tion, di­ar­rhea and other pre­ventable causes.

Though it long ago be­came clear that the war is un­winnable, the Saudi lead­er­ship per­sists — and has suc­ceeded in per­suad­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­new sup­port, in­clud­ing bomb de­liv­er­ies, that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sus­pended. The Saudis say their Houthi en­e­mies are a proxy for Iran, but many ex­perts be­lieve they over­state that case. Mean­while, the war de­tracts from the U.S.-led fight against the Is­lamic State (ISIL), from which the Per­sian Gulf na­tions have with­drawn re­sources.

Then there is the block­ade of Qatar by four Sunni Arab coun­tries, an­other Saudi-led ini­tia­tive, that be­gan June 5. Saudi leaders said their purpose was to end Qatari sup­port for ter­ror­ism — a du­bi­ous claim that nev­er­the­less won the sup­port of President Trump. Yet not un­til last Fri­day, fol­low­ing public crit­i­cism from the State De­part­ment, did the block-aders present their de­mands. A num­ber have noth­ing to do with ter­ror­ism: For ex­am­ple, Qatar is to close down the Al Jazeera tele­vi­sion net­work, the Arab world’s most pop­u­lar news out­let, which pro­vides an out­let for crit­ics of the re­gion’s dic­ta­tor­ships. The Saudis fur­ther de­mand the clo­sure of a mil­i­tary base in Qatar main­tained by NATO mem­ber Turkey.

The largest U.S. air base in the Mid­dle East is also lo­cated in Qatar and is a hub for op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State. Not­with­stand­ing Trump’s sup­port­ive state­ments, the boy­cott risks se­ri­ous harm to U.S. in­ter­ests. Like the Ye­men war, it should give cause for care in em­brac­ing the new Saudi crown prince. Though he may be charm­ing, his adventurism makes him a ques­tion­able ally.

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