The whimsical Saudi rulers are playing musical chairs again, with the king’s favorite son jumping the succession queue in what some observers have called a “soft coup” to become heir to the oil kingdom throne.
The medieval-like House of Saud has always been a lynchpin in US foreign policy for the Middle East. More so under President Donald Trump who has struck up a chummy relationship with the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This relationship is like the blind leading the blind. No wonder US policy is fast becoming a disaster for the restive region.
America’s deepening and reckless military involvement in Syria is a result of Trump cozying up with the Saudi despots. That, in turn, is leading to the US brazenly flying air force cover for Saudi-sponsored terrorists in Syria at the risk of going to war with Russia and Iran. Russia has warned that any more US shoot-downs of Syrian jets will not be tolerated.
This week the obscurantist Saudi rulers decided to shake up their bizarre rules of succession in the kingdom. The ailing King Salman (81) decreed, overnight, that his heir Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef would no longer be the heir. Bin Nayef was pushed aside, to be replaced by the king’s own son, Mohammed bin Salman.
At age 31, the new Crown Prince could soon become the future Saudi ruler who will govern the country for the next half century. On one hand, the shake-up is aimed at giving the impression of stability in a strategic American ally, given that, potentially, Mohammed bin Salman could rule for several decades to come, owing to his youthful age.
On the other hand, however, the upending of Saudi succession rules is fraught with risk that the Arab state could become even more unstable from internal power rivalries and social discontent. Not to mention that the country has already become more embroiled in regional problems with neighbors Yemen, Qatar and Iran. All of which stems from the rapid elevation of the young prince to a position of immense autocratic power.
The United States’ decades-long “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia has always carried major downsides. Yes, the Saudis are a pillar in maintaining the American petrodollar system to prevent the collapse of the US economy; and, yes, the Saudi rulers are lavish spenders on US weapons, which props up the Pentagon military-industrial complex – another lifeline for American capitalism.
However, the Saudi rulers are also longtime sponsors of Wahhabi fundamentalism which has injected deadly sectarian poison into the Middle East region and beyond. Washington is complicit in fomenting sectarianism through its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the price for that Faustian pact is a world in turmoil from terrorism.
Donald Trump’s presidency is an unfortunate marriage of interests with Saudi Arabia. Trump is capricious, ignorant and impetuous. His understanding of international relations and history seems woefully inadequate. He also appears to be unscrupulous and reckless. It’s all about making money that matters to him.
From the earliest opportunity, the Saudi prince wheedled his way into Trump’s court. He was greeted in the White House back in March, one of the first foreign leaders to do so. Then two months later, Trump ventured on his maiden foreign trip as president in which he made Saudi Arabia his first stop. Trump was royally received by the House of Saud with sword-waving ceremony. And then the Saudis signed record arms deal with the US worth up to $350 billion – the biggest ever in history.
It was during Trump’s Saudi visit that the policy of increased hostility towards Iran and isolation of erstwhile Saudi and American ally Qatar was hatched. This reckless, clueless embrace of Saudi Arabia by Trump has led to a dangerous escalation in tensions across the Middle East, which are seen playing out in Syria and towards Iran and Russia.
Trump the tycoon and the Saudi upstart-prince are a duo who are plunging the world into danger of all-out war. The pair are a match made in hell, both being rash and irresponsible in their behavior.
Nobody outside Saudi Arabia had heard of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman until his father become king in January 2015 on the death of King Abdullah. In the space of two years, the young prince has been made defense minister and de facto chief of Saudi’s oil economy. Now, this week he has been shunted into becoming heir to the throne, sidelining his elder cousin and nephew to the king.
The precocious prince has only enjoyed this meteoric rise in the House of Saud because of his father’s favoritism. Other more senior royals feel ousted and see the new Crown Prince as undeserving of his assigned authority. In short, he is out of his depth.
In the Saudi succession rules, the royal line is supposed to pass from brother to brother. There are still surviving brothers of the Saudi founding king, Ibn Saud, who have been removed from the succession. The present King Salman first broke the rules when he made his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef the Crown Prince back in April 2015. Now he has broken the rules again by making his own son the heir and unceremoniously pushing bin Nayef to the side. Such are the hijinks of despots.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the architect behind the disastrous war in Yemen, which is turning into a Vietnam-style quagmire for Saudi Arabia, costing the kingdom billions of dollars every month. He is also reportedly the architect behind the policy of renewed hostility towards Iran. In an interview before Trump’s Saudi trip, Mohammed bin Salman said he would never talk to Iran and even threatened to unleash violence on Iranian territory. That threat was followed by the deadly terror attack in Tehran on June 7 in which up to 17 people were killed by Daesh suicide squads.
The hiked-up hostile policy towards Iran has, in turn, led to Saudi Arabia blockading Qatar and causing a bitter rift in the Persian Gulf because Qatar is perceived as being too soft on Iran.
The power-struggle antics among the absolute rulers of the House of Saud have promoted a prince who has a reckless outsized ego and lust for dominance. President Donald Trump seems cut from the same cloth. Courting the young Saudi heir may be lucrative for American weapons-dealing and no doubt the Trump business brand in the oil-rich region. But the consequences of such capricious and clueless “leadership” are throwing the region and the world into increasing conflict.
This week the US State Department flatly contradicted Trump’s policy of supporting the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar. It said it was mystified that the Saudis had not presented any evidence to justify the blockade. This is just one example where Trump is being made to look a total fool by following stupid Saudi policy – policy that is made by a prince who has gathered a record for disaster in several other spheres.
What a double act. Saudi despotism marries Trump cluelessness. And the world is reaping the calamity of clowns.
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