Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just announced he will not be attending the Future Investment Initiative Summit in Saudi Arabia next week. Obviously he didn’t decide this on his own. His announcement stated that this was done after consultation with Trump and Pompeo. Given that this “Davos in the Desert” summit is the brainchild of MbS, this official and personal snub by the Trump administration could be a sign of future sanctions… or it could be an effort to get through this crisis with the issuance of a wrist slap. A lot will depend on how MbS reacts. Judging by his reaction to a mean tweet by the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister earlier this year, it would not surprise me if MbS goes ballistic over the collapse of his summit.
Last summer, a standoff between Saudi Arabia and Canada gave us a window into how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deals with critics — but most of the world looked away. It started with two tweets. On Aug. 2, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote on Twitter that she was alarmed by the detention of Samar Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist whose brother, Raif Badawi, was arrested in 2012. Raif Badawi’s family lives in Canada. The next day, Global Affairs Canada weighed in, urging Saudi authorities to release civil and women’s rights activists.
Saudi Arabia was not having it. In a blustery Aug. 6 tweetstorm, the country’s Foreign Ministry announced that it was recalling its ambassador to Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia 24 hours to leave. The state airline said it would stop flying to Toronto. Saudi scholarship students were told to pack their bags. Trade and investment were frozen.
Pulling ambassadors and threatening to suspend investment was a “massive overreaction” and offered an important lesson, said Thomas Juneau, assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. “The lesson was that MBS is reckless and completely overreacts to threats,” he added, using the crown prince’s nickname. (Washington Post)
Trump and Pompeo are now pushing for more time for the Saudis to investigate the disappearance of Khashoggi, essentially stalling for time. I doubt Pompeo’s recent trip to Riyadh and Ankara was a search for the truth. It was a desperate effort to coordinate a way out of this mess and preserve the existing Saudi-US relationship. I’d like to know what Pompeo promised Erdogan in an effort to make this all go away. Was it enough? I doubt it. This situation is absolute gold for Erdogan’s dreams of a renewed Ottoman Empire.
How about MbS? Did Pompeo convince him to meekly accept whatever slap on the wrist is on the way? I doubt that as well. The Trump administration pretty much destroyed what was left of “Davos in the Desert.” If I had my family stationed in the Kingdom, I’d get them out right now and have my go bag within arm’s reach at all times. Without any degree of hyperbole, I predict MbS is about to get medieval on someone’s ass… someone beyond an aging expatriate reporter. The chessboard of the Middle East may be about to change dramatically. The result will be a lot of crying in Tel Aviv and Washington and a lot of smiling in Ankara and Tehran. And maybe an end to the needless dying and suffering in Yemen.