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ENERGY, AMBITION AND VISION

After meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. on March 19, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s two-week tour of the United States took him to New York, Boston Houston, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles meeting along the way with some of the top political and business leaders and news media executives in the country. Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program described the crown prince’s visit to the United States as “a very deliberate bipartisan outreach” and “a reminder of the close relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia in general, and not just Donald Trump and Jared Kushner”

The cover title of the April 16 issue of Time magazine spoke volumes. The title of the article inside by Karl Vick, however, was less kind. In fact, it was just plain offensive. It represented an attitude much of the mainstream media in the United States, for whatever their reasons, appear to have adopted as the norm along with their “fake news”. The obnoxious lies and vitriol targeting the president of the United States himself on virtually a daily basis must surely rank at the very bottom of the swamp of mainstream media in the United States.

Based on a 75-minute interview with the crown prince at New York City’s Plaza Hotel, Vick’s ensuing article asked whether or not the crown prince would be able to sell so called “skeptical” Americans on what Vick described as the crown prince’s “audacious, risky plan to modernise Saudi Arabia and reassert its primacy in the Middle East.” Noting that the crown prince had found some important supporters including President Donald Trump and his influential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Vick wondered whether others would “buy what the White House had signed on for”. Vick quoted Aaron David Miller, a longtime State Department official now at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, who expanded the question: “Is this a savvy transaction by a young guy who knows his country has to change, but who intends to maintain strict and authoritarian control at home or is this a transformation that will fundamentally alter the American conception of Saudi Arabia?” asked Miller.

To be fair and putting the title of the article aside, Vick did quote Bilal Y. Saab, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who put the crown prince’s visit to the United States in some perspective. “No one has said what he (the crown prince) has been saying in the entire history of the kingdom. It’s significant” said Saab “He really is trying to project a certain image, and he’s worked on it extremely hard”. Concluding his article, Vick suggested that what the crown prince was saying and doing was more than enough to give hope to those who wanted to see the possibility of “positive disruption” in the Middle East.

Placed immediately after Vick’s article, an opinion piece titled “Prince of Tides” by James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts university and formerly the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, demonstrated a far deeper understanding of the complexities of what is happening in Saudi Arabia. In his article, Stavridis recalled a meeting he had in Saudi Arabia in March with the crown prince to discuss diplomatic education in the kingdom. Stavridis noted that in his ten years as a very senior US military officer and five years as a dean of a graduate school of international relations, he had met with most of the major world leaders. “I would put bin Salman near the top of the list in terms of energy, ambition and vision” he wrote. “His youth means he will be in power for a long time when he becomes king. But the challenges are immense, and his detractors both inside the kingdom and globally are formidable.” Listing some of the challenges facing the crown prince the fight against corruption at home, resistance to social reforms, political tensions with Iran and Qatar, the military campaign in Yemen Stavridis wrote that there would be many more challenges ahead. Reinventing the economy, reducing the kingdom’s reliance on oil, creating jobs and many other pressing issues would be difficult. “He cannot succeed by force of personality alone, something he knows well” wrote Stavridis, concluding that the odds of his success were “better than even” but there were “rough seas ahead”