Saudi Crown Price Mohammad Bin Salman is a classic example of the ideological dogma that often clouds the minds of a young man whose ambition exceeds his circumspection, let alone his intelligence. By all accounts Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is profoundly lacking in both circumspection and intelligence.
The bravado with which he has designed the Saudi war of aggression against Yemen, a war which has killed thousands of civilians and starved many others due to Saudi’s inhumane blockade of Yemen, has failed to achieve any tangible military goal. However, the war has been and continues to be a costly endeavour in a country that has been hit by a recession as world oil prices continue their general downward spiral.
Unlike previous Saudi rulers, the Crown Prince who may soon become King (he already is largely the power behind the throne) tends to take an arrogant and overly personal approach to the art of diplomacy. If someone like Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is a Rembrandt kind of diplomat, MBS is something of a Jackson Pollock wherein anything goes and to the average eye, the results are very messy indeed.
As odd as it sounds, MBS might actually find that Sergey Lavrov and President Putin are among the few masters of diplomacy that can handle the youthful impetuosity of MBS. While certainly not a young man, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often behaves with all the frivolity, foolish pride and rash attitudes normally associated with youth. While European leaders meet Erdogan’s brash arrogance with a kind of typically beta-male arrogance and both US Presidents Obama and Trump seem not willing to even attempt a respectful relationship with Erdogan, President Putin has developed a close professional relationship with the Turkish President in spite of many pronounced differences in foreign policy objectives, not least in Syria, although this too may be changing in Russia’s broad favour.
MBS is no Erdogan. Erdogan at least knows what he wants and does know what he is doing. MBS by contrast acts with a heart that seems to be totally disconnected from his head. The fact that he surrounds himself with sycophants in the totally nontransparent Saudi royal court has not done him any favours.
Because of this, a country which behaves as unilaterally, as brazenly and as unaccountably as the United States may find that in time, America’s State Department and even seasoned gentlemen with experience in the Gulf like US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may lose patience with MBS. America is brash and unaccountable and so too is the Saudi royal family. If MBS has any disagreements with the US, something which may in fact happen in the not too distant future, diplomatic deadlock result from the ensuing spat.
However, the best way to handle a spoilt child, which is in fact what MBS is, is by countering impetuosity with maturity. President Putin is perhaps the best example of a mature statesmen for several generations if not more.
During his recent marathon Q and A, President Putin was asked how he deals with being cheated. Putin stated that he tries to understand why the guilty party has acted in a dishonest way and that while he does not immediately react, he never forgets. This is the mature approach with which Putin deals with all foreign adversaries. He even goes so far as to generally refer to them as ‘partners’ even during times of outlandish rhetoric from the opposing side.
President Putin demonstrated this kind of maturity when the newly elected French President Emmaual Macron distorted Russian history, insulted Russian journalists, attempted to rhetorically meddle in Russian internal affairs and criticised Russian policy in the most guttural way, all while in front of an invited guest, the head of state of a larger and more powerful country.
Vladimir Putin did not match Macron’s insults but instead gave the young French leader a lesson in Russia’s history of relations with France. He then drew a parallel to Macron’s insult implying that Russian media is ‘Putin controlled’ by reminding the French leader that from the Russian perspective it is not clear if the French President is in a position to make French Foreign policy while France acts in Syria at the behest of NATO and specifically the United States.
Macron also insulted US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in saying that such men only understand the world in terms of power. Does this mean Macron sees the world in terms of weakness?
Macron topped it all off by implying that his homoerotic handshake with Donald Trump was “not innocent” and was somehow a ploy to force the US President to respect him.
MBS who is 31 and Macron who is 39 are both young men who even so, are immature for their age. They act with impunity simply because they’ve had the personally good fortune to achieve positions of power at a young age. While maturity in terms of age does not guarantee wisdom, MBS and Macron are manifest examples of the folly of youth. Both of these young men act as though their youth is tantamount to a kind of intellectual immortality where they can get away with treating their elders without respect and dignity.
Such individuals rarely last long, certainly not without being taught a few important lessons by life.
Impetuosity, youthful exuberance and a loose tongue of this variety are a recipe for disaster. Many other young leaders develop a sense of purpose and perspective at a young age. Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi is one such example as is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who was only 35 when he was first elected President in the year 2000. Assad remains beloved by his people due in great part to personal humility.
MBS and Macron still have a lot of growing up to do. Their arrogant boyish attitudes are not sufficient to sustain their positions for long. History has shown this to be the case time and time again.
Just as it was with Macron, Putin may be one of the few statements to be able to handle the Saudi boy who would be king.