Michael Wolff’s second exposé of the inner workings of the Trump White House says that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, has “a cocaine problem.” In the just-published Siege: Trump Under Fire, Wolff charges that Prince Mohammed “could disappear for days or longer on benders.”
Wolff is not an unimpeachable source. But his assertion should be a warning to the United States and Israel about their budding alliance with Prince Mohammed; building your Mideast foreign policy around a 33-year-old of questionable stability might not be a wise choice.
Morality clearly means nothing to either the Trump administration or to the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Crown Prince’s murder of the brave dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October did not delay the strengthening U.S.-Israel-Saudi engagement for a nano-second. Self-styled realists like former American diplomat Dennis Ross, the pro-Israel Peace Processor, argued that “The U.S. and Saudi Arabia Can’t Get a Divorce.” Another supposed expert added, “Mohammed bin Salman Is Here to Stay.”
But here’s some genuine realism: Why assume Prince Mohammed can hold on to power indefinitely? The Saudi royal family is notoriously opaque, but we do know that it includes somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 princes, and that over the decades the kingdom’s political stability has depended on a careful balancing of family groupings. Why should Trump, Netanyahu (and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that embarrassing love letter to Prince Mohammed last year) assume that one young man of doubtful judgment can indefinitely maintain control of this complicated governing apparatus? In the past, the Saudis royals have acted collectively and decisively; in 1964, they removed King Saud, allegedly for profligacy, and replaced him with his half brother, Faisal.
What’s more, Saudi royals are surely aware that hostility in the Arab world to Prince Mohammed is on the rise. Just last week, angry Palestinians in Jerusalem chased away Arab “normalizers” who favor abandoning the Palestinian cause; one of the prime targets of the Palestinians was Mohammed Saud, a young Saudi who is prominent in the kingdom’s online troll army. Saud, who tweets as @mohsaud08, was described by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as “a hyper-enthusiastic pro-Israel activist.” (The normalizers were guests of the Israeli government, and Benjamin Netanyahu himself later apologized to Saud for his rough reception.)
More ominously, rumors are circulating that Israel wants to transfer control of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem from Jordan, which presently oversees it, to Saudi Arabia. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest shrine. Jewish Israeli extremists want to blow up the centuries-old building and replace it with the Third Temple. Any change in the mosque’s status is guaranteed to trigger an international upheaval.
Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed continues to prosecute the murderous war in Yemen, even after his erstwhile allies in the United Arab Emirates have abandoned him. These various Saudi provocations have prompted a surprising development; religious Islamic scholars across the Mideast and North Africa are calling for a boycott of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, to the holy city of Mecca, which all Muslims are encouraged to undertake in their lifetime. There is even a hashtag on Twitter: #boycotthajj.
Finally, Donald Trump has a surprising ally in his vicious attacks on Muslim-American Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Organized lies about the two women have also been pouring online from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi troll army dishonestly smeared the two as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Omar’s case, they also deployed racial slurs based on her African ancestry. And the Saudi trolls even echoed the dishonest claim, common on the U.S. far right and echoed by Donald Trump, that Ilhan Omar had married her brother.