• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous supporter has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

As Trump Cozies Up to Saudi Arabia, War With Iran Becomes More Likely

Photo by Walter | CC BY 2.0

Many people view Donald Trump as the most dangerous man on the planet, but next week he flies to Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit during which he will meet a man who surely runs him a close second as a source of instability. This is deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31 – the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia since his father King Salman, 81, is incapacitated by old age – who has won a reputation for impulsiveness, aggression and poor judgement in the two-and-half years he has held power. Early on he escalated the Saudi role in Syria, thereby helping to precipitate Russian military intervention, and initiated a war in Yemen that is still going on and has reduced 17 million people to the brink of famine. Combine his failings with those of Trump, a man equally careless or ignorant about the consequence of his actions, and you have an explosive mixture threatening the most volatile region on earth.

Prince Mohammed, who is also defence minister, is not a man who learns from his mistakes or even notices that he has made them. Less than a year after his father became king in January 2015, the BND German intelligence agency issued a warning that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention” abroad and blamed this on the deputy crown prince whom it portrayed as a naïve political gambler. The degree of alarm within the BND about his impact on the region must have been high for them to release such a document which was swiftly withdrawn at the insistence of the German foreign ministry, but its predictions have been fulfilled disastrously in the following eighteen months.

The deputy crown prince is turning out to be not only a gambler, but one who recklessly raises his stakes when in trouble. Proof of this came in an extraordinary but under-reported interview he gave earlier this month, broadcast on al-Arabiya TV and Saudi TV, in which he threatens military intervention in Iran. “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran,” he says. Speaking in highly sectarian terms, he claims that the Iranian Shia leaders are planning to seize Mecca and to establish their rule over all the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. He believes that “their logic is based on the notion that Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for his arrival and they must control the Muslim world.” His diatribe is as anti-Shia as it is anti-Iranian and likely to provoke fears among Shia in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia itself, where Shia make up a tenth of the population, that they will be the victims of an anti-Shia crusade.

It is absurd to imagine that the four or five Shia countries have the ambition or the ability to take over the fifty or more that are Sunni, though Sunni fundamentalists accuse tiny Shia minorities in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Indonesia of plotting to do so. Prince Mohammed appears to give credence to the theory of a grand anti-Sunni conspiracy orchestrated by Iran, saying that, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran has been trying to “control Muslims in the Islamic world and spread the Twelver Jaafari [Shia] sect in the Islamic world so Imam Mahdi comes.”

There is more at play here than Prince Mohammed whipping up religious and nationalist feelings in Saudi Arabia to secure his own power base and fend off his rivals within the royal family. None of his foreign ventures have so far achieved their aims: in Syria in the spring of 2015 Saudi Arabia gave support to the so-called Army of Conquest, consisting primarily of the al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front and its then ally Ahrar al-Sham. This won a series of victories against pro-Assad forces in Idlib province but their success led to Russian military intervention later the same year that was a turning point in the war. Saudi influence was marginalised, something that he blames on “former American President Barack Obama [who] wasted many significant opportunities he could have seized to achieve great change in Syria.” In practice, Saudi Arabia was hoping for US military intervention to enforce regime change in Syria along the lines of Iraq in 2003 or Libya in 2011. Obama was privately critical of Saudi actions and the tradition of the Washington foreign policy establishment of giving automatic support to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Nevertheless, in Yemen Mr Obama gave backing until the last days of his presidency to the Saudi-led bombing campaign which has been devastating the country since March 2015 but has so far failed to win the war for the Saudis’ local allies. It has brought terrible suffering to the Yemeni population of 27 million, of whom the UN estimates that 17 million are “food insecure” including 3.3 million pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children, some 462,000 under the age of five, who are “acutely malnourished” or, in other words, starving. Saudi-backed forces are poised to attack the Red Sea port of Hodeida, through which come 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports which make up most of its food supplies. If the port is closed then Yemenis will face the worst man-made famine since Mao Tse-Tung’s Great Leap Forward. Prince Mohammed says the war is all but won, though, mysteriously, in finishing off the other side, “thousands of our troops can fall victims. There will be funerals in all Saudi cities.”

Trump has already ordered greater US support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, but the deputy crown prince will be primarily bidding for US backing for his confrontation with Iran. Words are already turning into action with reports of the US and Saudi Arabia being at one in planning to stir up an anti-government insurgency among minorities in Iran such as the Baluchis in the south east, something that has been done before but with limited impact.

Saudi leaders were overjoyed by the election of Trump whom they see as sympathetic to them and the Gulf leaders whom he will meet after he arrives in Saudi Arabia on 19 May, before going on to Israel. It is a chilling tribute to the authoritarian instincts of Trump that his first foreign visit as President should be to the last arbitrary monarchies left on earth and to a state where women are not even allowed to drive. On the question of confronting Iran, he is unlikely to be restrained by his Defence Secretary, James Mattis, and his National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, both former generals scarred by America’s war in Iraq, where they see Iran as the main enemy.

The White House is doubtless conscious that the one-time Trump has won universal plaudits in the US was when he fired missiles in Syria and dropped a big bomb in Afghanistan. Trump and Prince Mohammed may be very different in some respects, but both know that fighting foreign foes and waving the flag shores up crumbling support at home.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail