Tag Archives: Mohammad bin Salman

THE ANGRY ARAB: The Saudi Crown Prince’s Crippled Agenda, by As`ad AbuKhalil

So far, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman’s tenure has been distinguished only by his ineptitude. From As`ad AbuKhalil at consortiumnews.com:

From launching a war on Yemen to having Jamal Khashoggi murdered, As’ad AbuKhalil sizes up the magnitude of MbS’s miscalculations.

All is not well with the Saudi regime.  Despite amassing more power than any previous Saudi ruler, with the possible exception of founding King `Abdul-`Aziz (known in the U.S. as Ibn Saud), Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, or MbS, has not been able to deliver on any of his political and economic promises.

MbS offered the Saudi people a bargain: that he would achieve military, political and economic successes while imposing brutal repression at home.

He also offered a modicum of social relaxation, probably at the behest of Western PR firms that have influence with Gulf regimes. But these social reforms have been neither consistent nor smooth. Women were permitted to drive but the feminist men and women who advocated rights for women were jailed and tortured. (The easing of social restrictions was presumably meant to be popular, but it’s hazardous to measure public opinion in Saudi Arabia: Western media’s “conversations-on-the-street” don’t really say much because this is a government that imposes long prison sentences for the wrong retweet.)

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in 2018. (YouTube)

Power Grabber

MbS began seizing power when his ailing father took over as king in 2015.  He then became minister of defense. The post had long been held by his uncle, Prince Sultan, and it was widely expected that Sultan would be succeeded by his son, Khalid Bin Sultan (the figure-head deputy commander of the Desert Storm war). But MbS disregarded customary succession and the balance of power among the various royal factions, including his better-educated and more-experienced half-brothers.

In 2017, when he promoted himself to crown prince from deputy crown prince, he became the sole undisputed leader of Saudi Arabia. To consolidate his economic and military control, he weakened the National Guard, the vehicle for tribal alliances in the kingdom.

As soon as MbS became defense minister, he launched the war on Yemen. He calculated that the war would only last a few weeks and that the Huthis would quickly surrender. (The Obama administration presumably found this credible, since it lent support to the adventure, probably as a compensation for the U.S.-Iran agreement, which the Saudis vigorously opposed.)

Epic Huthi Resistance

But the war has dragged on and the Huthis have proven a formidable military force. Their resistance to the brutal military campaign by Gulf and Western countries is nothing short of epic.  And, while the war was launched in the name of weakening Iranian hold in the region, it has actually cemented ties between the Huthis and the Iranian regime and its allies in the region.

This calculation backfired on other fronts as well. The assault on Yemen brought international media scrutiny to his atrocious war crimes there, while repressions inside the kingdom have been exposed in the wake of the horrific killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (White House/Shealah Craighead)

MbS assumed that his excellent relations with the Trump administration, and with the other Western governments, would be sufficient to shield his regime from criticism.  But Turkey — which has its own feud with the Saudis, largely due to Ankara’s alliance with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, and its good relations with Iran — released embarrassing details about the complicity of the MbS government in the murder of Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul. Turkey left no doubt that MbS was the mastermind of the murder, and the CIA seems to agree, according to U.S. media.

Khashoggi’s slaying became a permanent stigma for MbS. With the exception of his brief appearance at the G-7 summit in France a few weeks ago, he has not visited the U.S. or the West since.

Confronting Iran

MbS’s miscalculations have extended to his entire confrontation with Iran in the region.  Last year he kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri (who has been a loyal Saudi client) to punish him for not going far enough in confronting Hizbullah. After subjecting him to beatings and humiliation, he forced him to read on a Saudi TV station a resignation letter prepared for him. But as soon as Hariri was released due to Western pressures, he returned to Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.

Furthermore, MbS was hoping — along with MbZ of the United Arab Emirates [Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi] — that Donald Trump would be the U.S. president they had been waiting for: the one who would launch a devastating war on Iran to end Teheran’s influence in the Middle East once and for all.

In the first few years of the Trump administration Saudi regime media were full of scathing attacks on former President Barack Obama, going so far as to suggest that he was a secret Shiite Muslim who harbored religio-political sympathy for Iran.  That same press was filled with glowing profiles of Trump and praise for his impending military campaign against Iran. (This was during Trump’s famous twitter threats against Iran and North Korea.)  But Trump has proven more cautious about military adventures than either of his immediate predecessors.  Once the Saudi regime media picked up on those signals, criticism of the Trump administration surfaced.

Change of Mind

MbS seems to have now changed his mind about the desirability of war with Iran.  What Iran has done in recent months (assuming it was responsible for the various attacks on shipping in the Gulf and on the oil installations in Saudi Arabia), is to demonstrate to Saudi Arabia and the UAE not only the reach of its bombing capability, but its determination to extend the war to the Arab Gulf countries if Iran is attacked by Israel or the U.S.  This can explain the recent Saudi and Emirati overtures to the Iranian regime. Both are suddenly expressing concern over the cost of war, if it were to erupt in their region.

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

MbS must not be a happy man.  He wanted the war on Yemen to become his signature victory and cement his reputation domestically and regionally.  But it has served the opposite purpose.

His 2017 blockade of Qatar has not gone well either. Qatar managed to survive economically and its impending regional isolation did not materialize either, as it worked to improve its relations with the unlikely odd mix of Turkey, Iran and the U.S.

Finally, MbS hoped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to elevate his stature in Washington. But the latter has proven unable or unwilling to intervene on Capitol Hill to lower the tone of criticism aimed at MbS. Furthermore, Netanyahu is today the least popular Israeli prime minster in Congress, perhaps since 1948, because he has associated his fortunes so closely with the Republican Party, and with a president detested by Democrats.  Netanyahu has been dealing with his own personal scandal, and the recent election didn’t guarantee him his premiership. In other words, MbS can’t count on Netanyahu.

Limited Choices

Bin Salman’s economic promises have also failed to bear fruit for the Saudi population. He may now be facing rising resentment within the royal family itself, although he’s so far managed to deal with that ruthlessly in the last two years.

MbS has limited choices.  He can’t afford to antagonize Trump and nor can he influence Trump one way or another regarding U.S. policies toward Iran.

His best hope is that war does not take place, and that Khashoggi will be forgotten. That is very unlikely given the recent publicity surrounding the first anniversary of the killing. A man who made arrogance a key part of his personality, has been humiliated by Khashoggi, a former member of the Saudi royal entourage.

But then again, Western governments have short memories when it comes to war crimes, assassinations and human rights violations by despots who are loyal to Western agendas.  Any rehabilitation that MbS can work out will require him to sacrifice much of his original agenda. It will mean curtailing his appetite for war in Yemen and elsewhere and to drop his plans to confront Iran on all fronts. The recent crippling of oil installations responsible for more than 50 percent of Saudi oil production had the effect of also crippling the foreign policy agenda of Mohammed bin Salman.

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MBS must shelve his vicious war in Yemen, by Pepe Escobar

Saudi Arabia has lost its war with Yemen, and the Houthis now pose a threat to Mohammad bin Salman’s regime. From Pepe Escobar at asiatimes.com:

More attacks on Saudi Arabia appear inevitable unless it agrees to stop war against Houthi rebels

Never underestimate the power of blowback. Right now, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the de facto ruler of the House of Saud, is staring at it, an ominous abyss opened by the Houthis in Yemen.

This past weekend, Yemeni Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier Yahya al-Sari clinically described how Ansarallah, also known as the Houthi rebel movement, aided by what Yemenis describe as “popular committees,” captured three Saudi brigades of 2,400 – ragged – soldiers, plus Yemeni and Sudanese mercenaries as well as several hundred battle vehicles. At least 500 Saudi soldiers were killed, Ansarallah said. (A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition denied the claim).

This was part of the significantly named Operation Nasrallah in Najran province, Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, who did learn a lot, tactically and strategically, from Hezbollah, duly praised mujahideen and ‘popular committees’ involved in Operation Nasrallah.

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS, by Darius Shahtahmasebi

In the eyes of Western politicians and media, Mohammed bin Salman’s unforgivable crime has been his independent, hard-to-control streak, not murder. From Darius Shahtahmasebi at rt.com:

The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS
Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

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Trump Folds at G-20 on Everything, by Tom Luongo

Trump has been neutered. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

I knew there was something wrong with Donald Trump’s presidency the day he bombed the airbase at Al-Shairat in Syria.  It was a turning point.  I knew it was a mistake the moment he did it and argued as such at the time.

No act by him was more contentious.

It cost me hundreds of followers gained throughout the campaign who wanted to believe Trump was playing 4-D chess.  My Periscopes went from being events to afterthoughts.

Those that left needed to believe this because they had invested so much in him.

They had to believe he was playing some deep game with Putin to bring peace to the region.

He wasn’t.

I was right and truth is painful.  The need for him to be Orange Jesus was so strong they created Qanon and the ‘science’ of political horoscope as slowly but surely Trump was stripped of all of his power except that of complaining about how unfair it all is.

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Khashoggi Media Sensation, MBS, and Yemen Silence, by Peter Crowley

A Washington Post columnist is murdered and America’s politicos and media finally notice that Saudi Arabia isn’t a peaceful libertarian paradise. From Peter Crowley at antiwar.com:

Jamal Khashoggi’s death has captured the American news cycle for nearly two months. During this time, we have seen Saudi Arabia try to unsuccessfully try to bury the story, conduct their own “investigation” and, ultimately, determine that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had nothing to do with it. President Donald Trump buys the Saudi government’s narrative, or at least wants to, in so far as any other conclusion would damage the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Other elements in the American political establishment, including the relatively new Trump faithful Lindsey Graham, would like to mildly punish the Saudi government and have become leery of MBS.

On the intelligence front, the CIA has come to view MBS as a liability and, not unrelatedly, considers him the mastermind of the Khashoggi killing, which there’s little doubt he is. Bin Salman’s status as a liability is due to his rash behavior in kidnapping and extorting money from members of the Saudi elite last year, kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister, igniting tensions with Qatar and now this. MBS may be virulently anti-Iran and pro-Israel, but what does that matter if he causes social instability and then the House of Saud goes under? Then Christmas will not come for American arms dealers and the politicians whose campaigns they helped finance.

Khashoggi worked for an American newspaper, The Washington Post. The fact that he’s associated with an American organization seems to be the main reason why the story has stuck around for two months. Other Saudi killings of dissidents have hardly raise eyebrows, including Saudi state prosecutors’ seeking the death penalty for women human rights activists and the Saudi government’s killing of the nonviolent Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr in early January 2016.

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Dangers to Dissidents, by Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul breaks with Trump on Saudi Arabia. From Paul at townhall.com:

The brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has opened a window into the world of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and reminded us that there are many places in the world where disagreeing with your government is a death sentence.

I break with the administration on their response to this killing for many reasons.  If Saudi Arabia is not held accountable for the barbaric murder of Khashoggi, what will it mean for the fate of other dissidents held in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who are being held without trial?  What message does it send to kingdoms and dictatorships around the region and the world that America considers its defense sales paramount to its stand for human rights?

What will it mean for Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, the Shia sheik executed by the Saudis in 2016?

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Trump’s Price Tag for Saving Mohammed bin Salman: $450,000,000,000, by Middle East Eye

Trump’s not going to let the Jamal Khashoggi murder get in the way of the mutually advantageous US-Saudi Arabia relationship. From Middle East Eye at theantimedia.org:

US President Donald Trump’s latest statement on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder is an extraordinary example of political sincerity – although backed by a completely wrong analysis.

Trump departed from the usual empty and generic rhetoric made by former American presidents about Saudi Arabia. He made it very clear that the US will condone what Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did, i.e ordering the killing of Khashoggi, because the kingdom is containing Iran, purchasing American weapons and is helping to control oil prices in line with American interests.

In other words, when American values, such as defending human rights and the rule of law, collide with American interests, Trump will opt for the latter. In fact, Trump statement confirms indirectly Middle East Eye’s report on the US intention to offer a way out to the Saudi crown prince from the Khashoggi quagmire.

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