As America’s elite abandons a reckless Saudi prince, will Trump join them?

By | October 15, 2018

Robin Wright writes:

Last spring, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and the richest man in modern history, hosted the young Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in Seattle. The Saudi press posted photos of Bezos in an open-necked shirt and the prince, having shed his Saudi robes, in a Western suit and dark-red tie. Both men beamed as they talked business and investment opportunities. Bezos was among the prosperous and powerful Americans who met the crown prince during a three-week road show, which took him from Harvard to Hollywood and Houston. Along the way, the crown prince also schmoozed with Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, both former Presidents Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Michael Bloomberg, Morgan Freeman, Henry Kissinger, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, and Richard Branson, among others. He wooed Google, Apple, Disney, Lockheed, Snapchat, and AMC.

During Prince Mohammed’s stop in Washington, where he brokered billions of dollars in arms deals, President Trump said that Washington’s relationship with the House of Saud was “probably as good as it’s really ever been, and I think will probably only get better.” At each stop, M.B.S., as he’s widely known at home, was heralded as a reformer in one of the world’s most authoritarian states—and possibly even the face of the future Middle East.

The bizarre disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has abruptly transformed the image of the desert kingdom and its crown prince, who has become its de-facto leader since his appointment, in June, 2017. On Sunday, the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, ran a full-page ad with a picture of the consulate’s front door. “On Tuesday, October 2 at 1:14 p.m. Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Consulate of Saudi Arabia,” it read, at the top. “He has not been seen since. DEMAND ANSWERS,” it said at the bottom.

Khashoggi may have accomplished in his disappearance—and possible death—what he had tried to do for the past year from exile, in Washington: hold the kingdom, and specifically its reckless crown prince, accountable for its misdeeds. The grisly prospect that he was dismembered by a hit squad dispatched from Saudi Arabia, as Turkish officials have reported, has revolted some of those who just months ago competed to fête M.B.S.

“In his early days, the crown prince was gaining a public image, in significant circles of U.S. public opinion, as a radically different leader from the conservative elderly monarchs of Saudi yore,” Paul Salem, the acting president of the Middle East Institute, told me. “But a darker narrative was also gaining ground, based on his arrest of women activists, business leaders, and silencing critics. The Khashoggi affair has solidified the negative narrative in wide cross-sections of U.S. public opinion.” [Continue reading…]

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