The rogue royal must be reined in

Woonsocket Call - - Opinion -

If the crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia has in mind a war with Iran, Pres­i­dent Trump should dis­abuse his royal high­ness of any no­tion that Amer­ica would be do­ing his fight­ing for him.

Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, or MBS, the 32-year-old son of the ag­ing and ail­ing King Sal­man, is mak­ing too many en­e­mies for his own good, or for ours.

Pledg­ing to West­ern­ize Saudi Ara­bia, he has an­tag­o­nized the cler­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. Among the 200 Saudis he just had ar­rested for crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion are 11 princes, the head of the Na­tional Guard, the gov­er­nor of Riyadh, and the famed in­vestor Prince Al­waleed bin Talal.

The Saudi tra­di­tion of con­sen­sus col­lec­tive rule is be­ing trashed.

MBS is said to be push­ing for an ab­di­ca­tion by his fa­ther and his early as­sump­tion of the throne. He has be­gun to ex­hibit the fa­mil­iar traits of an am­bi­tious 21stcen­tury au­to­crat in the mold of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey.

Yet his for­eign ad­ven­tures are all prov­ing to be de­ba­cles.

The rebels the Saudis backed in Syria's civil war were routed. The war on the Houthi rebels in Ye­men, of which MBS is ar­chi­tect, has proven to be a Saudi Viet­nam and a hu­man rights catas­tro­phe.

The crown prince per­suaded Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE to ex­pel Qatar from the Sunni Arab com­mu­nity for aid­ing ter­ror­ists, but he has failed to choke the tiny coun­try into sub­mis­sion.

Last week, MBS or­dered Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where Hariri pub­licly re­signed his of­fice and now ap­pears to be un­der house ar­rest. Re­fus­ing to rec­og­nize the res­ig­na­tion, Le­banon's pres­i­dent is de­mand­ing Hariri's re­turn.

Af­ter em­bat­tled Houthi rebels in Ye­men fired a mis­sile at its in­ter­na­tional air­port, Riyadh de­clared the mis­sile to be Ira­nian-made, smug­gled into Ye­men by Tehran, and fired with the help of Hezbol­lah.

The story seemed far­fetched, but Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir said the at­tack out of Ye­men may be con­sid­ered an "act of war" — by Iran. And as war talk spread across the re­gion last week, Riyadh or­dered all Saudi na­tion­als in Le­banon to come home.

Riyadh has now im­posed a vir­tual star­va­tion block­ade — land, sea and air — on Ye­men, that poor­est of Arab na­tions that is heav­ily de­pen­dent on im­ports for food and medicine. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ye­meni are suf­fer­ing from cholera. Mil­lions face mal­nu­tri­tion.

The U.S. in­ter­est here is clear: no new war in the Mid­dle East, and a ne­go­ti­ated end to the wars in Ye­men and Syria.

Hence, the United States needs to rein in the royal prince.

Yet, on his Asia trip, Trump said of the Saudi-gen­er­ated cri­sis, "I have great con­fi­dence in King Sal­man and the Crown Prince of Saudi Ara­bia, they know ex­actly what they are do­ing."

Do they? In Oc­to­ber, Jared Kush­ner made a trip to Riyadh, where he re­port­edly spent a long night of plot­ting Mid­dle East strat­egy un­til 4 a.m. with MBS. No one knows how a war be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran would end. The Saudis has been buy­ing mod­ern U. S. weapons for years, but Iran, with twice the pop­u­la­tion, has larger if less- welle­quipped forces.

Yet the seem­ing desire of the lead­ing Sunni na­tion in the Per­sian Gulf, Saudi Ara­bia, for a con­fronta­tion with the lead­ing Shi­ite power, Iran, ap­pears to carry the greater risks for Riyadh.

For, a dozen years ago, the bal­ance of power in the Gulf shifted to Iran, when Bush II launched Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, ousted Sad­dam Hus­sein, dis­armed and dis­banded his Sunni-led army, and turned Iraq into a Shi­ite­dom­i­nated na­tion friendly to Iran.

In the Rea­gan decade, Iraq had fought Iran as mor­tal en­e­mies for eight years. Now they are as­so­ci­ates, if not al­lies.

The Saudis may bris­tle at Hezbol­lah and de­mand a crack­down. But Hezbol­lah is a par­tic­i­pant in the Le­banese gov­ern­ment and has the largest fight­ing force in the coun­try, hard­ened in bat­tle in Syria's civil war, where it emerged on the vic­to­ri­ous side.

While the Is­raelis could fight and win a war with Hezbol­lah, both Is­rael and Hezbol­lah suf­fered so greatly from their 2006 war that nei­ther ap­pears ea­ger to re­new that costly but in­con­clu­sive con­flict.

In an all- out war with Iran, Saudi Ara­bia could not pre­vail with­out U.S. sup­port. And should Riyadh fail, the regime would be im­per­iled. As World War I, with the fall of the Ro­manov, Ho­hen­zollern, Haps­burg and Ot­toman em­pires, demon­strated, im­pe­rial houses do not fare well in los­ing wars.

So far out on a limb has MBS got­ten him­self, with his purge of cab­i­net min­is­ters and royal cousins, and his for­eign ad­ven­tures, it is hard to see how he climbs back with­out some hu­mil­i­a­tion that could cost him the throne.

Yet we have our own in­ter­ests here. And we should tell the crown prince that if he starts a war in Le­banon or in the Gulf, he is on his own. We can­not have this im­pul­sive prince de­cid­ing whether or not the United States goes to war again in the Mid­dle East.

We alone de­cide that.

Pa­trick J. Buchanan is the au­thor of a new book, "Nixon's White House Wars: The Bat­tles That Made and Broke a Pres­i­dent and Di­vided Amer­ica For­ever."

Pat Buchanan

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