By Daniel Larison
June 30, 2017
The American Conservative

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky also judge Mohammed bin Salman’s record to be very poor:

But one thing is already stunningly clear when it comes to his handling of foreign policy: In two short years, as the deputy crown prince and defense minister, MBS has driven the Kingdom into a series of royal blunders in Yemen, Qatar and Iran, and he has likely over promised what Saudi Arabia is able and willing to do on the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking front. Far from demonstrating judgment and experience, he’s proven to be reckless and impulsive, with little sense of how to link tactics and strategy. And sadly, he’s managed to implicate and drag the new Trump administration into some of these misadventures, too.

Miller and Sokolsky are right about MBS’ shoddy record, but their warning to the Trump administration is very likely too late. They urge the administration to rethink its position before “its Middle East policy becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia,” but I fear that that already happened at the Riyadh summit. Unfortunately, some top U.S. officials are only just now realizing it and don’t know how to stop it. There could be some belated efforts to undo this, but Trump isn’t interested. He doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with identifying the U.S. so closely with the Saudis, and he doesn’t see their recklessness and destructive behavior for what they are. Since he is impulsive, careless, and has poor judgment, it isn’t surprising that he has such an affinity for the aging Saudi despot and his favorite incompetent son. On top of all that, MBS is a short-sighted, foolish hard-liner on Iran, and as far as we can tell Trump is much the same, so we should expect them to be on the same page.

There’s no question that every foreign policy initiative associated with MBS has “turned into a hot mess,” but this has been obvious in Yemen for the last two years. If no one in the Trump administration noticed that before, what is going to make them realize it now? The authors are also right that Trump’s decision “to side with Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Qatar and in Yemen is akin to pouring gasoline on a fire,” but until very recently uncritical backing of the Saudis in their regional adventurism enjoyed broad bipartisan support that helped make it possible for things to get this bad. There were very few in Washington who thought that pouring gasoline on the fire was the wrong thing to do, and for more than two years the U.S. poured a lot of gas on the fire in Yemen that has been consuming thousands of lives and putting millions at risk of starvation.

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