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Why Trump's Stance On Saudi Arabia Is Actually Slap In The Face To The Monarchy

Category: Energy & Environment,Finance

released his authoritative statement on Saudi Arabia and the murder of Washington Post opinion contributor Jamal Khashoggi. It came just two days before Thanksgiving, when Americans are focused on themselves and their families. But you can be sure that Riyadh is paying attention.

President Donald Trump talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (The Washington Post/Getty Images)Getty

Let’s look at what President Trump said:

  1. Trump focused on Saudi Arabia as a partner to the US. Iran is a threat to the US and allies, and he said that Saudi Arabia has, “been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
  2. Similarly, he pointed out that, “Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
  3. He also noted the hundreds of billions of dollars of American goods under contract for Saudi Arabia, including significant military equipment purchases.
  4. The president also highlighted that Saudi Arabia has “been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”

But then President Trump also said some things that probably made leaders in Riyadh nervous.

  1. He explicitly stated that, “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge” of the plans to murder Khashoggi.
  2. After raising those doubts, he also differentiated between that leadership and the country of Saudi Arabia, saying, “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” In other words, he’s happy about the things Saudi Arabia is doing that benefit the US, but he’s not willing to stand by any individual Saudi leader—not now.
  3. President Trump said he is open to considering any ideas from Congress on how to address problems with Saudi Arabia, and there are many Congressmen and Senators who are vocally opposed to the Saudi leadership.

Hot takes from the press are saying that President Trump is letting Saudi Arabia off the hook, but that's not what's happening here . In an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia the purpose of the government is to support the king (and in this case the crown prince as well). President Trump showed support for Saudi Arabia, but not for the current royal leadership . The top levels of Saudi leadership were looking for support for the king and the crown prince. That's not what they got at all.

The problem for the royal leadership is that both domestically and globally, they were presenting an image that the crown prince was vital to the relationship with the United States. Trump just said that isn't the case.

So how might Saudi leadership respond? The kingdom cannot afford to react as it did when it was criticized by Germany in 2017 or by Canada this past summer. In both of those cases, Saudi Arabia halted diplomatic relations and announced economic decisions designed to show its discontent. That won’t work against the US. Saudi Arabia needs the US economically and geopolitically too much.

If Saudi leadership is unhappy about the lack of real support from President Trump its best option is to try to raise oil prices at the coming OPEC meeting in early December. But Saudi Arabia wanted to cut production anyways and the recent drops in oil prices only help Saudi Arabia with this goal.

But the more important question is, should Saudi Arabia react? The world is used to Saudi leaders taking every geopolitical slight so seriously. (See Germany and Canada). Saudi Arabia would do best to ignore any slights and proceed with its own business. Then perhaps Saudi Arabia can do some things to surprise its critics, like release dissidents, work with Israel, make peace with Qatar, or show movement towards peace in Yemen. 

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President Trump released his authoritative statement on Saudi Arabia and the murder of Washington Post opinion contributor Jamal Khashoggi. It came just two days before Thanksgiving, when Americans are focused on themselves and their families. But you can be sure that Riyadh is paying attention.

President Donald Trump talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (The Washington Post/Getty Images)Getty

Let’s look at what President Trump said:

  1. Trump focused on Saudi Arabia as a partner to the US. Iran is a threat to the US and allies, and he said that Saudi Arabia has, “been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
  2. Similarly, he pointed out that, “Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
  3. He also noted the hundreds of billions of dollars of American goods under contract for Saudi Arabia, including significant military equipment purchases.
  4. The president also highlighted that Saudi Arabia has “been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”

But then President Trump also said some things that probably made leaders in Riyadh nervous.

  1. He explicitly stated that, “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge” of the plans to murder Khashoggi.
  2. After raising those doubts, he also differentiated between that leadership and the country of Saudi Arabia, saying, “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” In other words, he’s happy about the things Saudi Arabia is doing that benefit the US, but he’s not willing to stand by any individual Saudi leader—not now.
  3. President Trump said he is open to considering any ideas from Congress on how to address problems with Saudi Arabia, and there are many Congressmen and Senators who are vocally opposed to the Saudi leadership.

Hot takes from the press are saying that President Trump is letting Saudi Arabia off the hook, but that's not what's happening here . In an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia the purpose of the government is to support the king (and in this case the crown prince as well). President Trump showed support for Saudi Arabia, but not for the current royal leadership . The top levels of Saudi leadership were looking for support for the king and the crown prince. That's not what they got at all.

The problem for the royal leadership is that both domestically and globally, they were presenting an image that the crown prince was vital to the relationship with the United States. Trump just said that isn't the case.

So how might Saudi leadership respond? The kingdom cannot afford to react as it did when it was criticized by Germany in 2017 or by Canada this past summer. In both of those cases, Saudi Arabia halted diplomatic relations and announced economic decisions designed to show its discontent. That won’t work against the US. Saudi Arabia needs the US economically and geopolitically too much.

If Saudi leadership is unhappy about the lack of real support from President Trump its best option is to try to raise oil prices at the coming OPEC meeting in early December. But Saudi Arabia wanted to cut production anyways and the recent drops in oil prices only help Saudi Arabia with this goal.

But the more important question is, should Saudi Arabia react? The world is used to Saudi leaders taking every geopolitical slight so seriously. (See Germany and Canada). Saudi Arabia would do best to ignore any slights and proceed with its own business. Then perhaps Saudi Arabia can do some things to surprise its critics, like release dissidents, work with Israel, make peace with Qatar, or show movement towards peace in Yemen. 


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