Saudi ‘Game of Thrones’ Purge Pleases Trump
graphic via Vox.com

“It’s the equivalent of waking up to find Warren Buffett and the heads of ABC, CBS and NBC have been arrested,” a former U.S. official told me. “It has all the appearances of a coup d’état. Saudi Arabia is rapidly becoming another country. The kingdom has never been this unstable.” – Robin Wright [The New Yorker]

KING SALMAN and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as M.B.S. for short), are remaking Saudi Arabia, and President Trump couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been interested in the Saudis for a long time. M.B.S. is responsible for the “modernization” regarding women. I’ve attended think tank seminars in Washington, D.C. funded by the royal family & their businesses. It’s where I met “Zbig” Brzezinski. Because of the moves by M.B.S., the dynamics between Saudi Arabia and Iran are about to intensify. He’s also got challenges about his vision, 2030, much of which remains shaky.

The Iran issue blew up today, which reveals another commonality with Trump. Hatred of Iran. From CNN today

Supplying rebels in Yemen with missiles was a “direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” declared Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday. In his first direct statements regarding a thwarted missile strike on the Riyadh airport that occurred over the weekend, bin Salman laid the blame for the attempt at the feet of Iran’s government, claiming it was “supplying its Houthi militias [in Yemen] with missiles.”

Trump’s interest revolves around his strongman fetish. Through M.B.S., he sees being turned loose in the Middle East and against U.S. adversaries.

Robin Wright outlines the tectonic shift.

“It’s an interesting form of dictatorship that is being created in Saudi Arabia,” Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi columnist and former editor and adviser to Saudi diplomats who is now in exile, told me. “M.B.S. is now becoming the supreme leader.” The only other country where that title is used is Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archrival.

What’s in this for Trump? His maneuvers revolve around Aramco, an oil company of enormous importance. He hopes to convince M.B.S. to list it on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. It’s one reason Jared Kushner was sent to Saudi Arabia. He happens to be close in age to M.B.S., who he has befriended.

More from Wright

“It will be perhaps the biggest going-public ever,” Trump told the reporters flying with him. “Right now, they’re not looking at it, because of litigation, risk and other risk, which is very sad.”

There is one big challenge. JASTA, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed by Congress. If there is ever a verdict against Saudi Arabia, JASTA could be used to freeze assets.

developing

Trump has pursued a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Barack Obama, choosing it in May for his first foreign trip since taking office. The countries announced contracts worth more than $380bn, including a $110bn arms deal aimed at countering perceived threats from Iran and radical Islamists. Prince Mohammed is close to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. [The Guardian]


UPDATE: We talked about this event in the comments below. The “Case of the Missing Lebanese Prime Minister” hit the nytimes.com website today.

On Friday, Mr. Hariri remained stranded in Saudi Arabia. The Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah said the Saudis were holding him against his will, while the Saudis have said there was a plot to assassinate him.