Would a similar policy toward Saudi Arabia prove viable?

Ideally, the U.S. and European governments would let it be known that they would be more open to working with Saudi Arabia if the power of the Crown Prince were reduced. There should also be limits on U.S. arms sales and intelligence support, which, fortunately, the U.S. Congress is likely to impose.

Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (photo: DW)
Young and impulsive: in addition to to his role in the murder of Khashoggi, MbS recklessly ordered the Saudi attack on Yemen – a strategic and humanitarian catastrophe. He kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister, did all he could to undermine Qatar, arrested wealthy Saudis who refused to embrace his consolidation of power, froze diplomatic relations with Canada over a critical tweet and imprisoned political activists, including women seeking greater rights

Setting boundaries

But more important than any sanction would be ratcheting up public and private pressure on MbS regarding what is needed – and what needs to be avoided. What is needed is a concerted push to end the Yemen conflict. What needs to be avoided is exploitation of the Trump administration’s anti-Iran animus to provoke an armed confrontation that would force others to overcome their qualms and side with Saudi Arabia.

A war with Iran would be costly and dangerous. MbS should be made to understand that the U.S. will be a strategic partner for Saudi Arabia only if he acts with greater restraint in Yemen and elsewhere and with greater respect for U.S. interests.

Consultations should also be held with China and Russia. Unlike the U.S., both have working relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran, which gives both a stake in preventing such a war from starting and shutting it down quickly if it does.

All too often in the Middle East, a bad situation becomes a worse situation. MbS has created a bad situation. The aim should be to establish sufficient limits so that it does not become worse.

Richard N. Haass

© Project Syndicate 2018

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003) and was President George W. Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

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