Reality Check for a Superstar Saudi Prince
For three weeks ending last weekend in Texas, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the most celebrated foreign leader to visit the U.S. since China's Deng Xiaoping almost 40 years ago.
The Crown Prince, was embraced by the administration of President Donald Trump. He saw former President Bill Clinton, leading tech executives, entertainment stars, titans of Wall Street, the foreign policy establishment and prominent journalists.
In a public relations triumph, the 32-year-old prince was greeted as a combination of rock star and Winston Churchill.
So let's pause for a reality check.
" Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the epitome of complication, a very mixed picture," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East specialist formerly with the Central Intelligence Agency who advised four presidents over almost three decades. This year he published a book about the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, "Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States Since FDR." He's now a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Riedel appreciates both the importance and the limitations of this relationship. He knows Mohammed bin Salman and considers him a genuine reformer determined to transform and diversify the fossil-fuel-reliant economy and modernize Saudi society by giving women more rights.
But Riedel also retains some skepticism. He's not impressed by the Trump administration's plan to make Saudi Arabia work with Israel to thwart Iran. That notion was framed as the centerpiece of a Mideast policy by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a geopolitical rookie, who formed a close relationship with Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that he supports an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian one, a welcome break with past Arab rhetoric. But Riedel is dismissive of the prince's push, as reported in the New Yorker, to force an Israel-supported accord on the Palestinians.
" I admire the crown prince's energy, intelligence and keen sense of public relations , he clearly understands the importance of a good press," Riedel said.