Friday, 26 January 2018

Mohammed Bin Salman - the Shah of Saudi Arabia

The flourishing relationship between Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud and the Trump Administration is a foreign policy strategy that has been tried before, to counterbalance growing anti-Israeli resentment and keep US adversaries at bay. And it did not work.

Under the Nixon Administration (1969-1974), ties between the United States and the Shah-led Iran, which were already strong, reached new heights as the pro-American regime continued to bolster its military might through the "blank check" initiative, in which the US would provide enormous amounts of weaponry to the Shah in exchange for large sums of money.

President Nixon chose this path was because British forces withdrew from the Arabian Gulf, which left a vacuous space that the US was unable to fill itself. The vacuum was unable to be filled by the US due to its commitments with the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

Such a geopolitical situation parallels the Trump Administration's dilemma. After President Barrack Obama's disastrous Middle-East foreign policy and with victories still aloof in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Trump has doubled down on achieving victory in the two nations, with much less capacity for dealing with the wider region.

With US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continuing, an extra US ally is needed to support the US ambitions and act as a counterbalance to Iran. The Trump Administration has singled out Saudi Arabia - and, more specifically Mohammed Bin Salman - to protect US interests and keep Iran at bay.

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the favoured future ruler of Saudi Arabia for both the US and Israel. Mohammed Bin Salman's hawkish views on Iran largely match the Israeli and US views. One of the largest arms deals was signed between President Trump and Saudi Arabia and paved the way for stronger relations. It is very likely that the favouritism of the US and Israel for Mohammed Bin Salman was the reason Mohammed Bin Nayyef, the previous Crown Prince, was forced to abdicate.

Under the tacit approval of Mohammed Bin Salman, it is no secret that an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is under way. But this peace process leaves Israel with full control of Palestine and with Israel's capital as Jerusalem, a deal completely unacceptable for the majority of adherents to the Muslim faith. Being anti-Iranian may not be enough for Mohammed Bin Salman to stem outrage at home over a peace deal with Israel supported by his government.

Islamic extremists are already painting Mohammed Bin Salman as the figurehead of everything wrong with Saudi Arabia - indeed, as a figurehead of everything wrong with the Middle-East. Worryingly, the economy under Mohammed Bin Salman's 2030 vision is worsening, with some of the worst recession to hit the conservative kingdom in years occurring in 2017.

Much optimism from pundits about the direction of Saudi Arabia under Mohammed Bin Salman is misguided unless it is rooted in recent history. Under President Nixon, much more emphasis was put on ties between the Shah of Iran and the US, but economically Iran went from bad to worse. Anti-Israeli sentiment was fueled by bad economy and the Shah became the figurehead of everything wrong with Iran. The Nixon policy fueled one of the most anti-American revolutions in history - and armed it, too.

It was some years between President Nixon's terms and the Iranian revolution, and it may be that the Trump Administration is just buying time for Iraq and Afghanistan to stabilize before Saudi Arabia implodes.

But history should leave the world in no doubt: explicitly pro-Israeli governments in the Middle-East can only work with a functioning economy or popular leadership. Mohammed Bin Salman, like the Shah before him, will be unable to provide a functioning economy for his country. And the time will come, soon, when Saudi Arabia will be plagued by a revolution, but instead of Ayatollah Khomeini, it will be ISIS, hiding in Iraq, that will lead the revolution.

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