Sunday, June 19, 2016

U.S. Officials Fear Saudi Collapse If New Prince Fails

From NBC, June 17:
The Saudi prince who seems to have won a family power struggle is meeting with U.S. officials this week -- some of them the same officials who are concerned his reign could be ruinous and hurt the regional security U.S. officials crave.

Officials in the national security establishment believe Saudi Arabia is at a crossroads, and that if the prince doesn't succeed, now and later as king, there could be chaos in the Kingdom. "It's him or it's ISIS," said one Saudi expert who asked that his name not be used.

Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's 30-year-old deputy crown prince, is on a tour of the U.S. that will include New York and Silicon Valley. His biggest meetings are with top U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., this week, including Secretary of State Kerry on Monday and a scheduled visit with President Obama at the White House Friday morning.

But the big news, suggest U.S. officials, is that bin Salman is here at all, since he's technically second-in-line to his father King Salman's throne. He seems to have gained the upper hand on his cousin and rival Mohammed Bin Nayef, the crown prince and a longtime U.S. favorite. The trip is essentially a state visit without the fanfare.

Bruce Riedel, former national intelligence officer for the Mid-East and a member of President Obama's transition team, said that U.S. leaders now need to familiarize themselves with a man who may be king soon. King Salman is 80 and fragile and Bin Nayef, who the U.S. would've preferred as his successor, is seriously ill. "We've put a lot of markers down on Mohammed bin Nayef. It's the smart move to do the same with Bin Salman. It's an opportunity to get to know him."

U.S. officials have been concerned about bin Salman since he took over the Kingdom's No. 3 job in April 2015, said Riedel. "A lot of people are worried about his recklessness."

Salman has embarked on a number of costly foreign interventions, including a war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. The war had initial success, but became a stalemate that was costing the Kingdom $200 million per day until a ceasefire went into effect this spring. International human rights activists heavily criticized the Saudis for wanton attacks on Yemeni civilians.

Bin Salman also made a poor choice about the Kingdom's primary source of cash. As economic czar, he backed last year's decision to keep pumping oil despite plummeting global prices. Saudi Arabia's revenues have dropped, forcing huge cuts in social services, including the generous subsidies that the Kingdom pays to it citizens. Those subsidies had been increased in 2012 following the Arab Spring as a way of keeping dissent at bay among the country's burgeoning --and restive -population of young males.

The Kingdom is so strapped that for the first time since the late 1990s, it's taking on significant sovereign debt. The Saudis tapped the debt market in April to the tune of $10 billion.

Under Bin Salman, the Saudi's relationship with its chief regional nemesis, Iran, has dramatically worsened, particularly after the Saudis executed a well-known Shiite dissident, Nimr al-Nimr, in January. Bin Salman backed the execution, which angered both the Iranians and Saudi Arabia's large Shiite minority....MORE 
HT: naked capitalism

Related: Royal Pains: Two Princes Vie for Power in Saudi Arabia, Make a Mess