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Mohammed bin Salman’s High-Stakes Gamble to Create a New Saudi Arabia

Nov. 14 2017

Since being named heir to his father’s throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has assumed significant power within the Saudi government and used it to position himself as a reformer. His boldest move so far came on November 4, when he ordered the arrest of over 40 princes and government ministers while playing a role in the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon. Hussein Ibish describe what he sees as the prince’s three-pronged effort to wipe the slate clean and “create a new Saudi Arabia for a new era”:

The first [prong] is the consolidation of political power. To all appearances, last weekend’s arrests pretty well conclude that chapter: there are no more viable, independent power centers in the country, or at least none that are not on existential notice. However, it’s possible the crown prince and his father have overreached and that there will be a backlash because they have jettisoned decades of carefully calibrated power-sharing within the royal family and other elements of the power structure. . . .

The second part of the project, economic and social reform, is a taller order, but still doable. . . . Mohammed has certainly shown a determination to lead this transition from the top down and a due appreciation of the social changes, particularly with regard to the role of women, that will be necessary for a globally competitive post-petroleum economy. His attempt to forge an alliance with the general public, especially the youth, so far appears relatively successful and could be a key basis for long-term success. There is evidence of an emerging new dynamism in parts of Saudi society.

It is the third front that is likely to be most challenging: the assertion and defense of Saudi interests throughout the Middle East, particularly with regard to an ever-more-powerful Iran. . . . Hariri’s resignation is likely tied to significant gains made by Iran and its key ally, Lebanese Hizballah, in securing, along with their Iraqi allies and clients, key areas in northern and western Iraq (in the aftermath of the Kurdish independence referendum and the battle against Islamic State) and in eastern Syria. . . . These developments are a potential strategic game-changer in the Middle East, and the Saudi response, apparently, is to go after Iran and Hizballah in their central and original locus of power in the Arab world: Lebanon. . . .

By positioning himself as an all-powerful incoming monarch, . . . Mohammed is gambling everything on relative success on all three registers: political power, socioeconomic reform, and foreign policy. While most Saudis seem to understand the pressing need for radical change, and many may currently support the crown prince’s measures, the danger is that a perceived significant failure on any of these fronts could produce a crisis of legitimacy in an environment of such personalized authority. . . . Mohammed bin Salman—and therefore almost certainly Saudi Arabia as a whole—will either win or lose spectacularly.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Lebanon, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Can Learn from Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House in 1981, the consensus was that, with regard to the Soviet Union, two responsible policy choices presented themselves: détente, or a return to the Truman-era policy of containment. Reagan, however, insisted that the USSR’s influence could not just be checked but rolled back, and without massive bloodshed. A decade later, the Soviet empire collapsed entirely. In crafting a policy toward the Islamic Republic today, David Ignatius urges the current president to draw on Reagan’s success:

A serious strategy to roll back Iran would begin with Syria. The U.S. would maintain the strong military position it has established east of the Euphrates and enhance its garrison at Tanf and other points in southern Syria. Trump’s public comments suggest, however, that he wants to pull these troops out, the sooner the better. This would all but assure continued Iranian power in Syria.

Iraq is another key pressure point. The victory of militant Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr in [last week’s] elections should worry Tehran as much as Washington. Sadr has quietly developed good relations with Saudi Arabia, and his movement may offer the best chance of maintaining an Arab Iraq as opposed to a Persian-dominated one. But again, that’s assuming that Washington is serious about backing the Saudis in checking Iran’s regional ambitions. . . .

The Arabs, [however], want the U.S. (or Israel) to do the fighting this time. That’s a bad idea for America, for many reasons, but the biggest is that there’s no U.S. political support for a war against Iran. . . .

Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Foreign policy