Mideast’s reck­less prince

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Philadel­phia Inquirer

Have Pres­i­dent Trump and his sonin-law bet their en­tire Mideast pol­icy on a reck­less 32-year-old Saudi crown prince who is get­ting in over his head?

That’s the ques­tion that should grab Amer­i­cans as we watch the wild game of thrones play­ing out in Saudi Ara­bia, where, last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man (known as MBS) ar­rested 11 princes along with an ad­di­tional 190 of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men. An­other prom­i­nent prince died in a mys­te­ri­ous he­li­copter crash.

What’s riv­et­ing the Mideast is the de­gree to which Trump has fully em­braced the youth­ful prince (and his el­derly fa­ther, King Sal­man). Who can for­get the scenes of the pres­i­dent sword danc­ing as he was lav­ishly feted and flat­tered on a May trip to Riyadh, and promised (un­ful­filled) bil­lions in arms deals? More­over, first son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, a new buddy of the young prince, has made three trips to Riyadh this year, the lat­est a se­cret four-day visit last month.

Trump tweeted, in the midst of his Asia trip: “I have great con­fi­dence in King Sal­man and the Crown Prince of Saudi Ara­bia. They know ex­actly what they are do­ing.” Clearly the purge doesn’t bother a pres­i­dent who ad­mires strong­men.

More to the point, Trump and Kush­ner ap­pear to be re­ly­ing on the crown prince to spear­head a Sunni Arab cam­paign that will roll back Shi­ite Iran’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence in the Mideast (and god­fa­ther a peace be­tween the Pales­tini­ans and Is­rael).

Sure, Prince Mohammed talks a good game. He says he wants to mod­ern­ize the kingdom, fight cor­rup­tion, let women drive and pro­mote a more mod­er­ate form of Is­lam. That would cer­tainly be a wel­come change, since Saudi Ara­bia’s ex­port of their fun­da­men­tal­ist Wa­habi vari­ant of Is­lam has paved the way for the rise of ji­hadism around the world.

Yet his roundup of the kingdom’s most prom­i­nent busi­ness­men in a kingdom where cor­rup­tion is en­demic looks more like a Pu­ti­nesque shake­down than a move to­ward a trans­par­ent sys­tem. Any seized funds may be used to un­der­write MBS’s grandiose scheme to build a new $500 bil­lion high-tech me­trop­o­lis in the desert called NEOM.

As for mod­er­at­ing the Saudi brand of Is­lam, that­would­be­aboon­tothek­ing­do­mandthe­world. But al­though some cler­ics have been ar­rested, and re­li­gious po­lice lec­tured, the crown prince has cracked down as hard or harder on in­tel­lec­tu­als and peace­ful ac­tivists. So it ap­pears that Prince Mohammed’s main goal is to so­lid­ify power in his hands alone, in a coun­try where kings have long ruled by con­sen­sus. Whether he has the judg­ment to han­dle that power is ques­tion­able.

MBS’ im­pulses are most ques­tion­able when it comes to his cam­paign against Tehran, waged all over the re­gion. The Saudi track record vs. Iran is one of un­mit­i­gated fail­ure – de­spite U.S. back­ing.

With the prince’s ter­ri­ble track record so far, you’d think that Trump would be brand­ing MBS a loser. Or at least pro­ceed­ing with great cau­tion.

In­stead, Trump and Kush­ner have heed­lessly har­nessed their Mideast hopes to an un­de­pend­able Saudi prince.

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