Friday, May 12, 2017

45 Goes To Wahabia Arabia

The Saudis are planning three events for this month's 45 visit. First is a session with the king and his court, then a meeting with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council and finally a meeting with other Muslim leaders and representatives. It is a demonstration of the Saudis' convening power and broad influence. The custodian of the two holy mosques, as they style themselves, has huge soft power in the Islamic world.

Iran is Salman's top issue. This month, Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an interview condemning Iran in extremely harsh sectarian terms. The prince, the king's favorite son, characterized the Iranian Islamic Republic as being driven by messianic prophecies and determined to dominate the entire Islamic community. He claimed that Iran sought to take control of Mecca from the kingdom. There was no room for dialogue with Tehran, according to his statement.

Indeed, the prince promised that the kingdom will fight its war against Iran inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia. He was vague about what that means, but it suggests he supports regime change in Tehran. It was one of the most virulent public attacks on Iran ever by the House of Saud.

The royal family is eager for American support against Iran in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The Saudi leaders face a more skeptical domestic audience. The new administration is widely seen by the public in the Arab world as an enemy of Islam. A poll of Saudis in November showed overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton and only 6% for 45. There will be no demonstrations against the president in a police state, but the palace will not want to be seen as failing to defend Muslim rights, especially when it comes to Jerusalem.

here will be agreement on fighting terror, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Behind the scenes, the Saudis will want some administration action to prevent legal action against the kingdom via the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Numerous lawsuits have been filed alleging Saudi responsibility for 9/11.

 The Saudis will note that the CIA just awarded Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef the George Tenet medal for fighting terrorism. How can a medal winner be a sponsor of terror?