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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe AmericasThe United States Is the Last Check on MBS’s Power

The United States Is the Last Check on MBS’s Power

Author: F. Gregory Gause III

Affiliation: The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: March 30, 2021/ USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 1906 words

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2021-03-30/united-states-last-check-mbss-power# 

Keywords: US Foreign Policy, Saudi Arabia, Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), Biden Administration, Security

Brief:

F. Gregory Gause III proposes that the US is the only practical check on Mohamed bin Salman’s power. Biden’s administration has adopted a strict strategy towards Saudi Arabia through some procedures to restrict MBS’ power and influence internally and externally. Although MBS’s power is consolidated and entrenched, the US is most probably the only effective check on his power. Gause argues that isolating MBS from the political scene in Saudi Arabia will not force his removal from power, rather it will constrain American’s ability to control and check his authority. However, the US continues to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to maintain security both in Yemen and in the Middle East as well. The Saudi ruling system was based on a committee of princes deciding on policies and political decisions. While princes were enjoying a veto power, policies and decisions (both foreign and internal) showed consensus positions. Yet, this structural conservatism changed gradually by reconstituting the committee system, moving away from inheritance system, and finally dismantling the committee system by King Salman. Moreover, Salman worked on cultivating MBS’ powers, especially over critical coercive and economic institutions, which has led to power concentration instead of the previous consensus. This has resulted in some reforms initiated by MBS, yet it also has led to futile decisions including arrests of business officials and princes, kidnapping Saad Hariri, launching a boycott campaign against Qatar, ongoing destruction in the Yemeni war, and the murder of Khashoggi. In addition, it is not predicted that any of the ruling family might go for a direct confrontation with MBS. Altogether, MBS faces only one effective check on his power, which is the US. While Trump’s administration followed a privileged treatment with MBS, Biden’s administration has followed a different path by intentionally recalibrating the relation with Saudi Arabia, including considering only King Salman in official diplomatic communication, ending military cooperation in Yemen, suspending arms deliveries, and banning some Saudi official accused of threating Saudi dissidents from travelling to the US. To sum up, since the US is the only check on MBS power, it is not recommended to remove him from his position, which would be considered as a regime change that has not shown any success in the Middle East. Rather, the US should choose to deal with MBS in the light of dealing with Saudi Arabia. Biden’s administration should seek to control MBS’ behavior and clearly define his limits instead of removing him from the political scene. 

By: Yomna Süleyman, CIGA Research Assistant

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