Saudi foreign policy and domestic constraints

Read the full article on The American Interest.

No Saudi official has been more applauded and vilified at the same time than Mohamed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. That is not surprising, given the transformational nature of the project he’s leading at home, which is bound to create both winners—those who wish to open up the kingdom—and losers—those who wish more or less to preserve the status quo.

However, in foreign policy, no such polarization in world opinion about Crown Prince Mohamed seems to exist. The consensus—not shared by the Trump Administration as per usual—is that the young Saudi leader’s behavior abroad is impulsive, reckless, and outright dangerous. The only uncertainty about Crown Prince Mohamed in foreign affairs, it seems, pertains to what the 33-year old whirlwind will do next, or, to be more precise, what new crisis he will create.

In a little over a year since his appointment as second-in-command, “MbS,” as he is known for short, has raised many eyebrows and caused much consternation. He has instigated a disastrous and so far ineffective military intervention in Yemen’s civil war, freeing a host of demons from historical captivity and imposing massive humanitarian suffering on Yemen’s civilian population. He has imposed a sea and land blockade on Qatar. He has also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, started a feud with Canada, and recalled the German Ambassador while forbidding the Saudi government from doing business with German companies.

Crown Prince Mohamed’s supporters claim that he has had legitimate reasons for all these actions. They blame media bias and general misinformation about Saudi Arabia for MbS’s bad international press. But the world remains skeptical, and policy elites are plainly worried about the Crown Prince’s next foreign policy move.