Good Riddance to 2018


December 23, 2018

Good Riddance to 2018

Those who oppose democracy, the rule of law, and multilateralism have had a good year. But there have also been signs suggesting that those who uphold these principles have not lost the will to fight back.

MADRID – Sadly, 2018 will not be remembered as a year of political and diplomatic success. Though the international order had already begun to erode in 2017, the global political environment became downright chaotic, combustible, and hostile this year. That is no coincidence, as these are perhaps the three adjectives that best describe the United States under President Donald Trump.

Since January 2018, when the Trump administration announced tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, the year has been marked by an escalating “trade war,” waged primarily – but not exclusively – by the US against China. The ongoing tariff disputes have seriously undermined the World Trade Organization and deepened mutual distrust in Sino-American relations.

Image result for Xi

 

For its part, China this year eliminated presidential term limits, raising fears that President Xi Jinping’s so-called new era will end the period of collective leadership ushered in by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, which were themselves a corrective to Mao’s cult of personality. This move could also herald a further deviation from Deng’s trademark foreign-policy restraint.

Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin was reelected in March, to no one’s surprise. Under Putin, Russia has been re-emerging as a geopolitical force. And yet, its economy is essentially stagnant, owing in part to its excessive dependence on hydrocarbons. In the absence of growth, Putin has relied on foreign policy to shore up his domestic popularity.

For example, Putin’s campaign press secretary welcomed the British government’s response to the nerve-agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, because it may have mobilized Putin’s supporters in the run-up to the presidential election. And the Kremlin’s recent decision to blockade Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov may also have been designed to boost Putin’s domestic approval rating, among other goals. The danger now is that both the US and Russia will cease to implement the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, posing a new and acute threat to Europe in particular.

 

Meanwhile, the Middle East has continued to serve as a battlefield for some of the world’s most violent conflicts. Though the Islamic State (ISIS) has continued to lose ground, it is far from defeated – contrary to what Trump has claimed – and the death toll in Syria’s civil war continues to climb. Likewise, the humanitarian calamity in Yemen has deepened, though negotiations that ran aground in 2016 have at least resumed and made some progress. In Afghanistan, what is widely regarded as the longest-running war in US history continues, and it is estimated that the Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since their government was overthrown in 2001.

Despite some recent developments in the aforementioned conflicts, the underpinnings of the Trump administration’s general strategy in the Middle East remained intact in 2018. The US has reaffirmed its support for the axis of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which it regards as a bulwark against Iran. In May, the Trump administration moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That same month, it abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and announced an abusive re-imposition of extraterritorial sanctions, which reflects the increasing .

Moreover, by siding with the Saudi government over his own intelligence agencies in the of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, Trump has made clear that opposing Iran and purchasing US arms is one of the quickest ways to his heart. The result of his broad approach to the Middle East has been to empower military hardliners throughout the region. In fact, Israel and Iran this year engaged in their first-ever direct military encounter.

 

Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

Image result for crazy trump

Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

The Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, often regarded as one of the Kremlin’s main ideologues, argues that “populism should unite right-wing values with socialism, social justice, and anti-capitalism.” This “integral populism,” he believes, is perfectly illustrated by Italy’s current governing coalition, which comprises the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the nationalist League party.

In October, Italy’s government instigated a conflict with the European Union (which has fortunately subsided) by proposing a budget that defied EU fiscal rules. Italy’s leaders justified their policies in the name of an outdated interpretation of “sovereignty,” one similar to that of the United Kingdom’s Brexiteers, whose haphazardness has left the UK’s future shrouded in uncertainty.

There were a few positive developments in 2018. Certainly, the easing of tensions between the US and North Korea, and the even deeper rapprochement between North and South Korea, should be welcomed. Much credit belongs to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used the occasion of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump’s subsequent turn toward diplomacy – which led to his historic summit with Kim – should also be applauded, though his administration has yet to achieve anything more than symbolic progress toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Image result for MBS

The result of the US midterm elections was also good news. Democratic control of the House of Representatives means that, from January 2019, there will be more checks on Trump’s policies. And there have been welcome developments in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a recent resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi, and another to end US support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen, passed with bipartisan support.

Image result for Merkel and Macron

In Europe, the prospects for 2019 will depend primarily on three factors: Brexit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for EU reform, and the European Parliament election in May. In each case, one hopes that the supporters of democracy, the rule of law, European integration, and multilateralism will prevail.

Those who oppose these principles have had a rather good year. But they would be mistaken to think that those who uphold them have lost the will – and the ability – to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and harmony.

*Javier Solana was EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

 

 

Why Donald Trump is wrong to ignore the murder of a Saudi journalist


November 2,2018

See no evil

Why Donald Trump is wrong to ignore the murder of a Saudi journalist

 

America First is hurting America’s interests in the Middle East

THE ECONOMIST

 Print edition | Leaders

Image result for jamal khashoggi

Few political murders are as gruesome and well recorded as that of Jamal Khashoggi. The exiled Saudi journalist was throttled, dismembered and probably dissolved in acid in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. Turkish intelligence has leaked the faces and names of the 15-man hit squad sent from Riyadh on private jets. Western spooks have listened to audio recordings of Khashoggi’s last excruciating moments.

After weeks of lies, the Saudi government has admitted the guilt of its goons. The only question is whether the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, personally ordered the hit. President Donald Trump appears not to care. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he announced in a remarkable statement on November 20th, adding that America would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia. He sees the kingdom as a useful ally against Iran and Islamist extremism, an oil supplier that can keep prices low and a splendidly huge buyer of American weapons. The distortions and many exclamation marks suggest that Mr Trump drafted the statement himself. It starts and ends with “America First!”

Image result for trump and mbs

At first blush, Mr Trump’s position is strikingly candid. His transactional attitude to diplomacy with Saudi Arabia looks like the realpolitik of past American presidents in dealing with the Al Sauds, minus the cant about human rights. In reality, Mr Trump’s glossing over the murder of a peaceful critic is an alarming departure for America. It helps to create a world that is more dangerous, not safer.

Previous presidents have sought to balance moral values and national interests. Mr Trump has given up almost all pretence at defending morality; his sanctions on 17 Saudi officials are designed to protect the crown prince, not punish him. Mr Trump has thus abandoned an important tool of American power—its role as a model of democracy. In repeating the absurd Saudi claim that Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state”, Mr Trump has given licence to autocrats everywhere to kill journalists and dissidents. He has also shown, once again, that he prefers the word of an autocrat to that of the CIA, which believes the crown prince is to blame for Khashoggi’s murder.

Even in narrow geopolitical terms, Mr Trump is wrong. The crown prince is turning Saudi Arabia into a force for instability, and so is helping Iran extend its influence. His war in Yemen is unwinnable and causing widespread hunger and disease; it is hurting Saudi Arabia and its Western allies more than Iran. His feud with Qatar has pushed it closer to Iran. Even though it co-operates in the fight against jihadist groups, Saudi Arabia still feeds their ideology through textbooks that promote the view that Jews, Christians, Shia Muslims and others are infidels. What about oil and arms sales? Saudi Arabia wants to raise, not cut, the price of oil. And it has signed contracts for only $14.5bn of the $110bn-worth of arms purchases that Mr Trump likes to tout.

There are many reasons for the West to keep Saudi Arabia close. It is crucial to Islam and to regional stability. However, working with the Al Sauds should not mean doing whatever they ask. They need America more than it needs them. America should tell the Saudis to get out of the war in Yemen and make up with Qatar. Above all, it should tell them that rule by fear is no recipe for stability at home.

It does not take a CIA report to know that ultimate responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder lies with Muhammad bin Salman. His reputation as an economic and social reformer, who allowed cinemas to open and women to drive, has transmogrified into that of an old-fashioned Arab tyrant: insecure, brutal and rash.

There are few angels in Arab palaces. But Khashoggi’s blood is a permanent stain on the crown prince. It is increasingly hard to imagine him being a stable and reliable monarch. The stories of disquiet among the Al Sauds are growing. King Salman would be wise to start sharing power more widely—starting with the appointment of a new crown prince.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “See no evil”

 

Message to Harapan Government– NIP Wahhabism in the Bud


November 18, 2018

Message to Harapan Government— NIP Wahhabism the Bud

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

https://www.ipohecho.com.my/v4/article/2018/11/16/spread-of-wahhabism

Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s damning statement that Muslims in Malaysia are “slowly but surely becoming radicalised” should not be taken lightly. I knew this was coming as ominous signs are so plentiful and obvious that even the most cynical can no longer dismiss them as inconsequential.

The Islamic scholar implored that the new Pakatan Harapan Government take precautionary measures to arrest the spread before things get out of hand.

“Before the situation becomes untenable like what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s better to nip the problem in the bud. We need to do whatever possible to see it done. Revamping the school curriculum is one possible way to correct the situation,” he said.

Islam preaches compassion, love and tolerance but what we see in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan is something else. All of those benign virtues associated with Islam are being systematically destroyed by people who use religion for their very own selfish ends. I concur with the academician that religious extremism has no place in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Malaysia.

Image result for MBS

The radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia, incidentally, did not happen in a few short years. It is like an underground fire that is fueled by methane gas. You don’t see the flame but the burning continues and the heat permeates through the vents. It becomes volatile and deadly once the flames reach the surface and start to engulf the surrounding. This is the scenario I can think of.

According to Fauzi, Islamic theology taught in government schools in the early 1990s has shifted from traditional to one derived from the Middle East, especially from Saudi Arabia. The views are one-sided, sidestepping the norms while embracing a more radical form of mind-set, one of exclusivity, supremacist, with diminishing respect for the practitioners of other religions. Thus minorities and those with differing views are considered “aliens” or “non-conformists.”

Image result for zakir naik and trump

The term “liberalism” is often bandied about. If being a Muslim and you don’t conform you are a “liberal” and is regarded an outcast destined to burn in hell. The naivety is simply mind-blowing. The only similarity I can allude to is the Inquisition in 12th century France which later spread to Spain and Portugal. The objective of the Inquisitors was to “combat dissent and public heresy committed by baptised Christians.” And the targeted groups were mainly converts who were erroneously labelled as suspects due to the “assumption that they had secretly reverted to their former religions.

Incidentally, the last public execution of the Inquisition was in Spain in 1826 when a school teacher was garrotted (strangled) for being a disbeliever and attempting to spread his belief to his students.

Things were definitely different, pre- and post Merdeka in 1957. And being someone from that era I can safely vouch for it. In 1979, following the Iranian Revolution that helped catapult Ayatollah Khomeini into power, the equation changed dramatically. The revolution sparked interest in Islam all over the world.

Iran is a proponent of the Shia form of Islam which is strongly opposed by the Sunnis in other parts of the Muslim world led by Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich Saudi government, in wanting to counter the spread of Shia teachings, took advantage of this change offering scholarships and money to institutions and charities in the developing Muslim world. Malaysia was one of the many beneficiaries.

 

This, the Saudis believe, would help impose their brand of conservative Islam popularly referred to as Wahhabism or Salafism within their area of influence, including Malaysia.

In the 1980s and 1990s many Malaysians, especially Malay Muslims, went overseas for higher education. Due to the interest in Islam, many headed to the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to pursue religious studies. This was made possible by the generous scholarships offered by the Saudi Arabian government. Over there they were exposed to the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking and practices.

When these students returned they got into the mainstream education system and becoming the ideal source for the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking which preaches intolerance, extremism and exclusivity. Some gained entry into the civil service, becoming influential bureaucrats, lawyers, academicians and politicians. These people are now in positions of power thus allowing them to make decisions for the good and bad of all of us. That explains why the thinking of these “misfits” are so skewed

Wahhabism was started by Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) who was dismayed by what he saw in Istanbul. The Ottoman Turks’ way of life, he reasoned, was revolting. He then decided to propagate his version of “a pure and unadulterated Islam.”

The “Arabisation” of Malay Muslims has accelerated over the years. Today “uncovered” women are a rarity. And if you do meet them they are among the few who dare to be different. To the diehard believers, this phenomenon is the result of the proliferation liberalism that corrodes their way of life. The traditional yet alluring kebaya modern, the choice dress of my mother and aunties in the 1950s right to 1970s, had given way to the drab and soulless “tudung” and “telekung” which are designed to conceal the female figure.

Image result for wan azizah, nurul izzah

Why no skull cap for Anwar Ibrahim?

Male members are more adept at sporting a goatee and wearing a skullcap, as this is deemed appropriate and in sync with the dress code of Wahhabis. The more Arab one looks and talks, help to improve one’s religious credentials. It is about being as close as what was witnessed in 6th century Mecca and Madinah.
<

So “selamat pagi” becomes “assalamualaikum” and “akhirat” becomes “jannah”. It is definitely chic to lace one’s speech with some Arab-sounding words although they may mean little or nothing to both speakers and listeners. The absurdity is getting a little out of hand, I dare say. But to the adherents this is God-sent.

The troubled interfaith relations prevalent today are the result of this exclusivist Wahhabi/Salafist thinking which has crept into the education curriculum and mind-set. Renowned Muslim scholars are labelled “secular” and “liberal” to keep the Muslim masses from hearing them out. Those who do not toe the line are banned from speaking out. Fatwas (religious edicts) issued are seldom explained. Questioning a fatwa is considered blasphemous.

Notwithstanding the brouhaha surrounding the controversial Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), no solutions are yet forthcoming. Funding for the department’s many questionable activities has never been accounted for.

Where will all this lead us to? Your guess is as good as mine. With the emergence of Malaysia Baru (New Malaysia) this inadequacy will be addressed in due course. But looking at what’s been happening, I have my doubts.

Hopefully, I will be proven wrong.

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap


October 24, 2018

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

by  |  Phar Kim Beng

@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for  arab

“Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia”.–Phar Kim Beng

Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase “a friend of my enemy is my friend”. It is also a testament to how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like “habibi” (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East – what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an “outsider” who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optica are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of ‘Orientalism’, a book that discusses the West’s patronising representations of “The East”) once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma

The reason, once again, appears simple. The four countries mentioned earlier seem to believe that they are the fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma (a Sunni Islamic sect of Islam), which can withstand the pressure and manipulation of Iran.

Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, even Lebanon too, have fallen under the influence of the Shi’ite.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Palestine and Syria are considered the defenders and fronts of Iran, albeit doing the biddings of Iran in Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and last but not least, Turkey.

But Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Turkey are not necessarily pro-Iran or pro-Shi’ite. Almost all of them want a region that is peaceful, with the exception of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu made the right decision to pull back Malaysian peacekeepers from there. It was also wise to cancel the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya.

Image result for 1mdb

I

f Malaysia is further entangled with the Middle East/West Asia, Malaysia would not have one any leeway to escape the spillover effects of their radicalism. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

Look at businessperson Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. He allegedly swindled 1MDB to work with false companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of US dollars have been lost, and will not be recovered.

All such madcap adventures began with the fawning of the yacht and wealth of the Middle East or West Asia, many of which were allegedly rented to mislead the Malaysian and other governments.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It is an unacceptable act of tyranny


October 23, 2018

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. “It is an unacceptable act of Tyranny”

by Bernama

The Face of an Arab Tyrant  

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has described the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny.

He said Malaysia does not support the killings of government critics. “We all have someone we dislike, but we cannot simply kill him because we don’t like him. I used to be hated by many, and if we have the same system like Saudi Arabia’s, I probably won’t be here talking to you today.

“Alhamdulillah, we don’t see such acts of tyranny here in our country,” he said at the “Bicara Minda Bersama Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad” talk moderated by veteran journalist Johan Jaafar at Dewan Karangkraf in Shah Alam yesterday.

Image result for dr mahathir bin mohamad

The Prime Minister said this when asked about Malaysia’s stand pertaining to the murder of the journalist. Last Saturday, Saudi Press Agency reported that Saudi Arabia had admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul.

The report stated that the discussions allegedly held between the Washington Post columnist and those he met in the consulate had turned into a fight which led to his death.

Following Khashoggi’s death, the international community began to put pressure on Saudi Arabia. Several countries have pulled out of the Saudi investment summit in Riyadh.

– Bernama

The 1600 Penn Avenue and The Barbarian in The Arabian Desert


October 21, 2018

US Mid-East Policy:The 1600 Penn Avenue and The Barbarian in The Arabian Desert

by Dr.Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/10/18/khashoggis-alleged-murder-says-as-much-about-america-as-saudi-arabia

“The United States’ Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country… [I]t is what helped President Jimmy Carter forge the Camp David accords. This is why, from presidents Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the U.S. government has urged even its Arab allies to undertake serious political reforms.

… All of this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world,  a job that we appear of late to have vacated.”–Dr. Fareed Zakaria

Image result for jamal khashoggi

 

The apparent barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi tells us something important about Saudi Arabia. But it also tells us something important about the United States.

First, Saudi Arabia. As has been often noted, Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, used to be part of the Saudi establishment. Although not a member of the House of Saud, he was well born and well connected. He edited an important Saudi newspaper and worked for senior royals. I first met him 14 years ago; he assisted me when I spent a week in Riyadh and Jiddah.

Image result for prince faisal turki al saud

Khashoggi was working for Prince Turki al-Faisal (pic above), the longtime head of Saudi intelligence who was at that time Ambassador to Britain and later Ambassador to the United States. Turki is one of the sons of King Faisal — in other words, as senior a royal as you can get, other than the monarch.

Khashoggi was, even in those days, a liberal and a reformer but always moderate and incremental in his approach. He worried that too much reform would be disruptive. “I would like to see my government taking harsher measures against [extremist elements],” he told me in 2005 on my PBS show, “Foreign Exchange.” But at the same time, he warned about going too fast. “We do not want to break the society,” he said.

Watching Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s approach, a mix of authoritarianism and real reforms, Khashoggi became more critical but was never a radical. So why was he apparently seen as so threatening? Perhaps because he was respected within the Saudi establishment. Harvard’s Tarek Masoud suggests that the Khashoggi affair might signal that there is greater dissent within the Saudi establishment than we had believed. If so, this is significant. When the scholar Samuel Huntington studied the breakdown of authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, he noted that a schism within the ruling elite was almost always the precursor to a broader breakdown of the regime.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has maintained stability because it was really a patronage state, not a police state. The kingdom has typically dealt with its critics and dissenters by buying them off — most importantly in the case of hardline clerics. It employed this strategy again most recently after the Arab Spring, when it massively increased subsidies to citizens and gave bonuses to government employees. It worked. In fact, a lesson of the Arab Spring seems to be that repression doesn’t work as well — consider Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — as bribery does.

Yet MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is known, appears to be changing the patronage model, bringing it closer to the police-state one. He has mixed economic, social and religious reforms with an ever-tighter grip on power, shaking down businessmen, imprisoning activists, targeting news platforms — and now, it would seem, executing a columnist.

Leaving aside their immorality, ruthless actions such as these tend to produce instability in the long run. Mubarak couldn’t hold on, and Assad’s survival has come at a staggering cost, with his territory diminished and mostly in ruins. Ironically, for someone so ferociously anti-Iranian, MBS resembles no Middle Eastern ruler as much as the shah of Iran, a reformer and also a despot, who was much loved by Western elites.

Mohammed is a complicated figure. He has moved Saudi Arabia forward in some areas while moving it toward greater repression in others. But the larger issue is that U.S. foreign policy should not be based on personalities. President Trump’s worldview seems utterly rooted in his likes and dislikes of other leaders — including Kim Jong Un, Angela Merkel and MBS. In the Middle East, this has led to the blind subcontracting of U.S. foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Washington has watched and de facto endorsed the kingdom as it ramped up its war in Yemen, blockaded Qatar, quarreled with Turkey and essentially kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon. All of these moves have, in large measure, failed.

Image result for crown prince mohammed bin salman

 

The United States’ Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country. Historically, this has meant being an honest broker, respected by all major powers. It is what allowed Henry Kissinger to practice shuttle diplomacy and pull Egypt away from the Soviet camp, and it is what helped President Jimmy Carter forge the Camp David accords. This is why, from presidents Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the U.S. government has urged even its Arab allies to undertake serious political reforms.

All of this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world, a job that we appear of late to have vacated.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group