Memo to Trump: Beware Saudi Arabia’s reckless crown prince

Everyone keeps saying they want peace in the Middle East, right? Well, memo to Saudi Arabia and President Trump: This isn’t the way to do it.

Saudi Arabia has been making dramatic international headlines in recent months. The kingdom’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) wants to introduce progressive reforms to his conservative nation. So far that has meant granting women the right to drive, envisioning plans for a futuristic city and trying to attract foreign investment. But MBS’s version of reform has also meant the arrests of scores of elites, clerics, social media stars, princes. The kingdom, long dependent on oil wealth, says that it wants to crack down on corruption. But as a number of my colleagues have pointed out, the young prince’s tactics mirror those of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. And in a country where the state and the royal family are one and the same, arrests and property seizures without meaningful legal reforms and transparency efforts will make MBS’s anti-corruption moves little more than a headline-grabbing show of political force.

But the kingdom is risking stoking more geopolitical chaos in a region that can ill-afford it. Lebanon has become the latest front: Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, (who is also a Saudi citizen) resigned last weekend, announcing his departure from office in Riyadh, on Saudi state TV. Lebanese officials have accused Saudi Arabia of basically holding Hariri hostage, in what may be an effort to squeeze the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said that Saudi Arabia has declared war on Lebanon and Hezbollah. You know things are getting heated when even Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi is telling Saudi Arabia to cool it on Hezbollah, saying the region can’t support more turmoil. On top of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia has been boycotting Qatar, and the Saudi-led coalition continues to pound Yemen into a humanitarian mess.

Watch the video for more. Saudi Arabia is leaning heavily on the Trump card — relying on Trump’s full-throated endorsment of MBS’s actions. But Trump could be making a huge mistake by putting all of America’s eggs in the reckless MBS’s basket.

Karen Attiah is The Washington Post's Global Opinions Editor.

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