Imagine that you paid a special visit to a family you hardly knew halfway around the world and they were so pleased to see you that they spent an estimated $68 million on your welcome, while mounting “festivities” like the one in which you danced with them sword in hand? Yes, you’d probably be thrilled, even if you weren’t Donald Trump, a man who seemingly can’t get enough of other people making a fuss over him. What I’m describing, of course, was the initial stop on his first trip abroad as president in May 2017. He landed in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where that country’s royal family — especially the canny fellow behind the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — feasted and fetêd him, while praising him everlastingly. Extravaganza though it was, it would prove to be little more than an initial down payment, a drop in the bucket, in an ongoing Saudi campaign to shape the new administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, as Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, and TomDispatch regular William Hartung so vividly explain today.
If that doesn’t frighten you, it should. After all, the Saudi royals have one thing in mind above all else: the destruction of Iran. And now, from the president who wants to shred the nuclear deal with that country (“Insane. Ridiculous. It should have never been made”) to his latest national security adviser, John Bolton (who’s long had the urge to “bomb, bomb Iran”), to his latest secretary of state, Mike Pompeo (another first-class Iranophobe), it’s an administration primed to take on — and possibly try to take out — the Iranian regime. Only the other day, Pompeo finished off his first trip as secretary of state by “swaggering” through the Middle East hawking a harder than hard line on Iran and that nuclear deal.
So many eyes here are focused right now on the Koreas, not Iran. Eighteen Republican members of the House, for instance, just nominated the president for a Nobel Prize for making peace in Korea (a nomination that fits well on the preemptive path blazed by Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize). While peace is threatening to break out in Asia, the Saudis may get their well-financed wish — and it won’t be for peace in the Middle East. For the Trump administration, a shredded nuclear deal and a new set of conflicts in a region that has proven disastrous for the U.S. seems to have real potential for a future prize all its own. (Maybe the Norwegian Booby Prize.) Even for the Saudis, the results of that $68 million investment could prove anything but appetizing, as in the old adage: be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.
So think of the Saudi-Trump relationship, to use a phrase from Freeman and Hartung’s piece, as the love affair from hell.