US threat Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman

In his campaign for the White House, Vice President Biden threatened to declare Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah” for the murder and mutilation of a dissident. The prince was once more warned with “consequences” last October for disobeying American requests about oil strategy.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham referred to Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the oil-rich country, as a “wrecking ball” who “never could be a leader on the world stage.” The president of golf’s elite P.G.A. Tour, Jay Monahan, also claimed that players who joined a rival league supported by Saudi Arabia betrayed the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11 carried out by terrorists who were primarily Saudi residents.

Their statements now seem empty.

When Mr Biden visited Saudi Arabia last year, they exchanged fist bumps. He also frequently sends representatives to meet with Prince Mohammed, most recently his secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, this past week. During a trip to Saudi Arabia in April, Senator Graham smiled next to the prince, whose initials are M.B.S. Also this week, Mr Monahan shocked the professional golf community by announcing a planned alliance between the P.G.A. and the fledgling LIV Golf league, which is supported by Saudi Arabia and has suddenly given the country enormous global clout over the sport.

“It just tells you how money talks because this guy sits on top of this oil well and all this money, so he can buy his way out of everything,” Abdullah Alaoudh, the Saudi director for the Freedom Initiative, a rights organization in Washington and an outspoken opponent of the monarchy, said.

Prince Mohammed, 37, has repeatedly avoided threats to punish him with international isolation throughout his eight-year rise to power. He has done this by taking advantage of the wealth of the kingdom, its control over the oil markets, and its significance in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Analysts and officials noted that along the way, he has not only sharpened his vision for the future of Saudi Arabia as an assertive regional power with a burgeoning economy and expanding political clout but has also learned from his failures to improve his strategies for attaining his objectives.

He seems to be having a great time right now, at least.

The kingdom’s finances have been boosted by the recent surge in oil demand. It purchased an English soccer team, spent a staggering sum to have Cristiano Ronaldo play in its national league, and is currently attempting to sign other international talents.

A close advisor to Prince Mohammed would become one of the game’s most influential figures if the golf agreement is successful, offering Saudi Arabia another significant opportunity to change its international reputation.

Formerly dismissive of Prince Mohammed, heads of state from Turkey to the United States have recently come around to seeing him as the Saudi Arabia of the future. Additionally, he has strengthened the kingdom’s ties with China, which assisted in mediating a diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two longtime adversaries in the area.

All of that represents a big step forward for a young prince who was viewed as a risky upstart after his father was crowned king in 2015.

The prince began a military operation in Yemen that same year, which resulted in numerous civilian casualties and plunged the country into chaos. Later, he shocked the business world by imprisoning hundreds of wealthy Saudis for weeks at a time in a fancy hotel as part of an alleged anti-corruption operation. He also upset the diplomatic community by kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon.

After a Saudi hit squad murdered and dismembered dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, his standing abroad suffered significantly. The Central Intelligence Agency came to the conclusion that Prince Mohammed had likely directed the operation despite his denial of having knowledge of the plot.

He was probably at his lowest then.

However, the crown prince has gained back a lot of his influence in the intervening years, thanks in large part to the substantial riches and might of his nation.

He suppressed competitors early on to increase his control at home. Young people in the kingdom are supporters of his because of the social reforms he has pushed through, such as legalizing women to drive and boosting entertainment options in a nation that formerly outlawed movie theatres.

He is also aware of his ability to play the long game as the king-in-waiting in a monarchy. He will never have to run for re-election, and while he is still in office, many more American presidents are likely to come and go before he does.

His subsequent comeback from the Khashoggi scandal demonstrated how far the kingdom’s resources might go and that, despite all the discussion about human rights from Western nations, other considerations finally prevailed.

“The Gulf Arab states, they think it’s a joke,” Dina Esfandiary, senior consultant for the Middle East as well as North Africa at the International Crisis Group, said of criticisms of human rights. They assert, “We can handle this hollow threat because it is just part of the relationship,” showing that they truly understand their value to the West as partners, energy producers, and economically powerful nations.

When visiting Saudi Arabia in April, Mr. Graham, the South Carolina senator who had previously declared Prince Mohammed unfit for leadership following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, instead praised him and commended the country for purchasing American jets.

“You spent $37 billion on aircraft produced in my nation and state. I believe there will be more, Mr Graham told Al Arabiya television in Saudi Arabia. “Therefore, I reserve the right to change course as a United States senator.”

Eventually, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose administration released information about Mr. Khashoggi’s death to hurt Prince Mohammed, overcame its reservations. The last case that aimed to secure accountability for the crime was terminated last year when a Turkish court moved the case against Mr. Khashoggi’s assailants to Saudi Arabia. Soon after, to help Turkey’s central bank bolster its resources, the monarchy set aside $5 billion in deposits for it.

The P.G.A. also changed their position.

The P.G.A. Tour commissioner, Mr. Monahan, criticized Saudi Arabia for months, even posing the question to athletes who were debating switching to the competition: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the P.G.A. Tour?”

As a result, when he revealed the new collaboration, many people were astonished.

Democratic senator Chris Murphy claimed on Twitter that P.G.A. representatives had recently argued with him that “the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport.”

Senator Murphy said, “I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?”

An increasing perception that the United States has turned into an untrustworthy partner among the kingdom’s citizens has recently had an impact on several of Prince Mohammed’s policies.

Three American presidents—one from each party—who all wished to reduce American involvement in the Middle East have been dealt with by the prince. The dangers of such a retreat for Saudi Arabia were evident in 2019 when drone and missile assaults that the U.S. accused Iran of planning targeted Saudi oil installations and temporarily reduced the country’s output by approximately half became apparent.

Prince Mohammed and his counterparts in the United Arab Emirates came to the conclusion that the United States no longer had their backs and that they had to take responsibility for their own security as a result of President Trump’s refusal to directly respond.

Now, “We can’t count on Washington to defend us, so we have to do it ourselves” is deeply ingrained in their thinking, according to Ms. Esfandiary of the International Crisis Group. This has caused several aspects of its foreign policy to be adjusted.

Additionally, it has decreased the likelihood that Saudi Arabia will automatically comply with American demands.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Prince Mohammed declined to support Western sanctions intended to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin, and Saudi Arabia has since increased its imports of cheap Russian oil products.

The administration pressed Saudi Arabia to maintain oil production when Mr. Biden met Prince Mohammed there in July of last year in order to assist lower gas costs in the U.S. before the midterm elections in November. But in an effort to keep prices high, the monarchy and the other OPEC Plus members decided to reduce production in October.

When Saudi Arabia and Iran stated they would resume regular diplomatic relations a few months later, the situation produced an unexpected diplomatic breakthrough.

Prince Mohammed gained from the arrangement in two ways: it lessened the likelihood of conflict with his principal regional adversary and gave a world power other than the United States a stake in the result.

Saudi authorities have stated that they would prefer to have America as their main ally but that they must diversify due to America’s lack of commitment. And given its own tight relationship with Tehran, the United States was in no position to mediate a deal between the Saudis and the Iranians.

Prince Mohammed’s attempts to calm the region are being applauded by even some longtime opponents of the kingdom.

“You’ve got this building back of bridges and trying to rein in some of the more quixotic activities, reaching out and trying to be a more constructive force in the region,” Dennis Horak, a former Canadian ambassador who was ejected from his post in Riyadh in 2018 due to Twitter posts criticizing the arrests of Saudi activists, said.

He questioned whether this would continue.

The issue with M.B.S., he said, “is that he can change on a dime.” “But perhaps that is altering. Perhaps he is developing a little.


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