There’re not many things as cool as royal intrigue. Even if it’s Arabs.
This week we saw some of the most important royal intrigue drama maybe of our lifetime. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia consolidated power by purging any princes he saw as a threat to his rise to the throne and future reform efforts.
King Salman groomed the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as his successor and gave him control over almost every major lever of power in Saudi Arabia. He gave MbS more than any other prince, to the dismay of princes twice his age. These others then began a plot to either kill him or get him removed since he’s too young and wants to secularize Saudi Arabia. Removing him with political smears would be too tough since the young leader has refrained from alcohol and other vices his entire life, mostly spending his days in the shadow of the King.
So, this week Prince Mohammed bin Salman purges them all and arrests anyone who didn’t swear allegiance to him. One died in a gunfight, while another died in a helicopter crash. The interesting part is how Trump was involved and what this means. Trump knew it was coming and gave them his blessing.
Trump met with King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia near the beginning of his presidency. Trump backed the Prince’s plan to purge the clerics and Islamists from the kingdom, as well as all the pieces of shit buying off our politicians and ownership of our social media.
Now Trump has a friend he’s working with in Saudi Arabia: the soon-to-be King Mohammed bin Salman. He’ll work to purge the extremists and make Saudi Arabia a secular country where women won’t have to wear headscarves, they’ll be able to drive, etc. Essentially, they want to be like Dubai. And what does this mean for Trump and his foreign policy? Shouldn’t he care about the principles and ideologies at play?
We’re talking about a pragmatic, realpolitik approach. Not talking about ideologies. Things don’t look as black and white as “interventionism vs. non-interventionism”. Things are really complicated with oceans of gray. This is the most complex situation (maybe in history) and Trump is going forward with the path that seems like it would work best while keeping all our allies.
How does that play out? With the leader of Lebanon resigning in Riyadh, it looks like there might be some push to neutralize Hezbollah, which will bring in Iran. They’ll likely try to neutralize the Iranian clerics and extremists at the same time. Which, of course, the Israelis will support.
Just because Israel wants something doesn’t automatically mean its bad. Many people balk when the Israelis get something they like, but the truth of the matter is they have power and will be at the negotiating table. This is one of the most complex situations on Earth, and there’re a billion different interests at play and levers.
Sure, at the end of the day, some could argue that Israel’s effect on the Middle East has been worse than Iran’s. But how does that align with Trump’s larger Middle Eastern policy, which is to drive out extremists and clerics (which includes Shiite clerics).
Iran threatens the goal of a stable secular-moderate Middle East. Now if Iranian influence grows, they threaten that goal. They inflame conflict with Israel and threaten any hope of peace there, while also inflaming further sectarian warfare. It gets in the way of regional stability and the Saudi “moderation of Islam” goal in the Middle East.
Without taking a moral position, such as the false choice of “Israel or Iran”, what are the larger pieces at play? What would a pragmatic person think about this situation? There’s much bigger stuff going on and Iran happens to be collateral damage. If they ultimately become more secularized like before 1979, then that’s a bonus.
It’s in our interest to weaken Turkey and Iran to isolate Russia and China. If the Saudis work with us to purge Sunni extremism, it might work.
Iran is a chess piece to deal with China, Russia, and Pakistan. If we can isolate Russia and give them a good option, say negotiating with us, then they won’t have to be stuck with China. Isolating China and stunting their rise is the key. They’re the only real threat in the world right now.
If Trump wants to achieve his goal of moderating the Middle East, this might be his best option right now. As much as many might dislike the neoconservatism of the past and what they perceive as nation-building, they need to know this isn’t nation-building. Trump’s not sending troops into Iran to take out the Ayatollah.
But in this day and age, there are bigger pieces at play. When China and Russia are involved and both trying to gain power over the United States, it’s stupid to sit in the corner and let them take control over the region that controls the Earth’s energy and props up the US dollar. Trump’s foreign policy: choose the powerful leader in the region that advances your goals and work out a deal with them where they take care of their region, with minimal US involvement. In a business negotiation sense, this would be called a win-win strategy, where everyone gets what they want.
So, maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that Trump orchestrated a coup, but the interesting part is that Trump was involved with the plan for Mohammed bin Salman to consolidate power and secularize the Middle East. Many say the plan was agreed upon and put into motion when Trump visited at the beginning of his presidency. Neutralize the Israeli/Shiite issue, drive out Sunni extremism, end the wars in the region, end the mass migration into Europe, become allies with Russia, and stop the rise of Turkey and China.
If he can pull it off, he might go down as one of the greatest foreign policy presidents in history.