Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman has given an interview with the US media outlet Bloomberg in which it has been falsely reported that he criticised his US ally after Donald Trump stated that without US military support the Saudi regime might not last a fortnight. While Trump’s remark was clearly provocative, in reality, Saudi Arabia is not about to lose its top geopolitical ally by any stretch of the imagination.
First of all, it is important to remember that the remark was delivered at one of Trump’s election season Make America Great Again rallies. Trump has a history of making provocative geopolitical statements at such rallies which rarely correspond to the kinds of statements he makes during more formal events, even though Trump is often more frank even in formal events than most of his predecessors. In this sense, Trump’s statement was intended more to rally ultra-nationalistic Americans towards his Republican party before Congressional midterm elections than it was intended to offer an actual warning to Saudi Arabia.
Secondly, in spite of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly developing relations with US rivals China and Russia, as the US continues to pursue a stridently anti-Iranian Middle East policy, the US simply cannot afford to risk political instability in Riyadh. Further analysis of this issue can be found in a piece by geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko.
Likewise, Mohammad bin Salman, a man who enjoys an openly warm relationship with Trump was not actually attacking Trump when he offered a robust response to Trump’s instantly infamous “two weeks” remark regarding Saudi Arabia’s survival during his largely sympathetic Bloomberg interview. According to the Crown Prince,
“Saudi Arabia was there before the United States of America. It’s there since 1744, I believe more than 30 years before the United States of America. And I believe, and I’m sorry if anyone misunderstands that, but I believe President Obama, in his eight years, he worked against many of our agenda – not in Saudi Arabia, but also in the Middle East. And even though the US worked against our agenda we were able to protect our interests. And the end result is that we succeeded, and the United States of America under the leadership of President Obama failed, for example in Egypt. So Saudi Arabia needs something like around 2,000 years to maybe face some dangers. So I believe this is not accurate”.
He continued, stating,
“Well, you know, you have to accept that any friend will say good things and bad things. So you cannot have 100 percent friends saying good things about you, even in your family. You will have some misunderstandings. So we put that in that category”.
Turning then to Riyadh’s relations (or lack there of) with Canada, after Ottawa’s controversial Foreign Minister took to Twitter to criticise the internal judicial workings of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman stated,
“It’s totally different. Canada, they gave an order to Saudi Arabia on an internal issue. It’s not an opinion of Canada about Saudi Arabia as much as they are giving an order to a different country. So we believe this is a totally different issue. Trump is speaking to his own people inside the United States of America about an issue. And you’ve got the answer now from me”.
By highlighting the fact that in the Obama era, the Saudi elite (much like their de-facto Israeli partners) found that working with Donald Trump’s predecessor was something of a headache, while under Trump relations continue to progress on a mutually acceptable basis, it is explicitly clear who Mohammad bin Salman is endorsing and who he is criticising. This makes it clear that even from the official Saudi perspective, Trump was essentially just blowing off steam during his speech when he made his “two weeks” remark. In this sense, just as Trump’s “threat” to Saudi Arabia was little more than nationalist rhetoric designed for a domestic audience, Mohammad bin Salman’s response has been one of equally nationalist rhetoric designed to bolster his leadership credentials at home while the more detailed answers he gave demonstrate that there is no schism between himself and the White House. The fact that the Crown Prince took the time to fit in actual criticisms of things that Trump notoriously dislikes – the Obama administration and the current Canadian government of Justin Trudeau, is clearly a further means of endearing himself to his friend in the White House.
This reality was further clarified beyond any reasonable doubt when the Crown Prince went on to praise Donald Trump stating:
“I love working with him. I really like working with him and we have achieved a lot in the Middle East, especially against extremism, extremist ideologies, terrorism and Da’esh disappeared in a very short time in Iraq and Syria, and a lot of extremist narratives have been demolished in the past two years, so this is a strong initiative. We worked together also, together with more than 50 countries, to agree on one goal in the Middle East and most of those countries are going through with that strategy. Now we are pushing back against extremists and terrorists and Iran’s negative moves in the Middle East in a good way. We have huge investments between both countries. We have good improvement in our trade – a lot of achievements, so this is really great”.
Taken in totality therefore, it is now safe to say that the entire imagined Saudi-US row is much media ado about absolutely nothing. The Saudi-US partnership will continue and as Washington steps up its anti-Iran rhetoric it is likely only to strengthen in spite of Saudi Arabia’s warming relations with China and Russia.