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US News Opinions | Trump’s embrace of Mohammed bin Salman is now costing him dearly

04:20  16 march  2020
04:20  16 march  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

A dramatic escape, an affair with a bodyguard and a £5.2m battle royal: How British-schooled Olympic horsewoman Haya bint al-Hussein took on her potentate husband Sheikh al-Maktoum after fleeing to the UK

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Donald Trump et al. posing for the camera: President Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. © Kevin Lamarque/Reuters President Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Donald Trump made one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency in the spring of 2017, when he offered an unconditional embrace to the then-emerging 31-year-old ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and adopted his agenda of aggressively confronting Iran. Three years later, as Trump grapples with the greatest crisis he has faced, that choice is costing him dearly. 

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Trump’s slow and stumbling response to the novel coronavirus pandemic helped accelerate last week’s stock market dive and mounting public uncertainty. But the trouble in the markets was also turbocharged by the latest reckless moves by the Saudi crown prince. Against the advice of his own ministers, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, moved to flood markets with cheap Saudi oil, causing the global price to plunge and endangering the U.S. oil industry. 

That, no doubt, prompted the phone call Trump made to MBS last Monday, as stocks were plunging. It’s an easy guess that the president’s message resembled the public statement of his Energy Department, which decried “attempts by state actors to manipulate and shock oil markets.” 

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Yet MBS’s reaction was to thumb his nose at the U.S. president. On Wednesday, his oil minister announced another big increase in petroleum production. U.S. stocks swooned again.

Then came the rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia on a base in Iraq, which killed two U.S. servicemen. That set off a tit-for-tat cycle of U.S. airstrikes and new rocket attacks that has brought Trump back to the brink of war with Iran — a resumption, at the worst possible moment, of an entirely unnecessary conflict that he embarked upon at the behest of MBS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Irqah Palace in the capital Riyadh on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Irqah Palace in the capital Riyadh on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) Since making Riyadh the site of his first foreign trip as president, Trump has stubbornly defended the Saudi ruler through multiple misadventures, from the disastrous war in Yemen and failed boycott of neighboring Qatar to the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The big Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons that MBS promised Trump have not materialized. Instead, the president’s reward is to be stiffed by his supposed ally at his moment of greatest need, with U.S. markets whipsawing and U.S. soldiers dying. 

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The Saudis claim that MBS is not intentionally seeking to sabotage Trump. The crown prince’s real quarrel, they say, is with Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin, who refused to go along with a Saudi proposal to cut oil production to stabilize prices, thus prompting MBS to rashly pump more while cutting prices.

Yet, in doing so, the crown prince is merely abetting a prime Putin aim, which is to drive the fragile U.S. fracking industry out of business. Not surprisingly, the Russians reacted calmly to MBS’s dumping gambit, saying they could live with rock-bottom oil prices for six to 10 years. U.S. frackers can’t — nor, for that matter, can MBS, who has already strained the kingdom’s finances to the breaking point.

Gallery: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: lifestyle, spending (Business Insider)

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud wearing a hat:         Mohammed bin Salman is the     34-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia.   He controls part of the royal   family's vast wealth, which is estimated at      up to $1.4 trillion.      The royal family's empire includes        Saudi Aramco, the massive, state-owned oil company that          just announced its plans to go public in December 2019.   Prince Mohammed has spent his   fortune on a $500 million yacht,     a $300 million French     chateau, and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci     painting.   In the fall of 2018, bin Salman   faced global outcry over the deathof journalist Jamal     Khashoggi, who the CIA later concluded was     assassinated on the prince's orders.            Visit Business Insider's     homepage for more stories.       Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, known as MBS, is the future   king of Saudi Arabia.    The 34-year-old heir will ascend to the throne after the death of   his father, 83-year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.     Prince Mohammed is known for his lavish spending. He has bought   a $500 million yacht, a $300 million French chateau,   and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci   painting. According to one estimate, the Saudi royal family -   which has about 15,000 members - is worth up to $1.4 trillion.    The royal family's empire includes    Saudi Aramco, the massive, state-owned oil company that      just announced its plans to go public in December 2019.   The crown prince has become a controversial global political   figure, particularly in the fall of 2018, when he faced global outcry over the deathof journalist Jamal Khashoggi,   who the CIA later concluded was   assassinated on the prince's orders.     Here's a look at the lavish - and controversial - lifestyle of   Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
One of the most consistent themes of Trumpian rhetoric has been the ways in which U.S. allies have supposedly exploited Washington’s weakness to pursue their own interests at America’s expense. In one of his first ventures into foreign policy, Trump bought an ad in the New York Times in 1987 to make that case against, among others, Saudi Arabia, “a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States.” He wrote: “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.” 

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Saudi Arabia still depends on the United States for its survival. U.S. warships are still protecting tankers carrying Saudi oil in the Persian Gulf, even though the United States needs imported petroleum far less than it did in 1987. What’s more, Trump has dispatched thousands of U.S. troops to the kingdom to defend oil fields from Iranian attack, escalating tensions that have now led to multiple U.S. deaths and injuries.

And yet, Trump has been curiously passive as MBS has repeatedly worked against U.S. interests. Consider the case of Saud al-Qahtani, the close aide to the crown prince who is believed to have overseen the murder of Khashoggi and a hacking campaign targeting MBS’s foreign critics. Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly pushed MBS to hold Qahtani accountable, or at least sideline him; yet as Ben Hubbard of the New York Times reports, “he is still commanding armies of bots and overseeing the kingdom’s electronic spying operations.”

Or consider Trump, with his reelection prospects in danger of crumbling along with the U.S. economy, asking the crown prince to act in his own, as well as the U.S., interest and stop pushing down oil prices amid a market panic — and then remaining silent as a dictator he has coddled for three years does the opposite. Surely, Vladi­mir Putin is laughing.


US names IS chief on terror blacklist .
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