STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Mohammed Bin Salman's personality is catching up with him

...

Posted: Aug 23, 2018 5:29 PM
Updated: Aug 23, 2018 5:29 PM

Donald Trump isn't the only leader falling foul of his own hubris. His friend, Saudi Arabia's ambitious ruler-in-waiting Mohammed Bin Salman, is also finding that his rhetoric is catching up with him.

Allies have lionized MBS as a modernizer, breaking with the desert Kingdom's extremely conservative roots. Skeptics have been silenced by his far-reaching reforms, including allowing women to drive.

Mohammed bin Salman

Political Figures - Intl

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Political Figures - US

Saudi Arabia

But in recent weeks his image has taken a tarnishing -- dulled by his own hand.

Reports indicate that the two trillion dollar IPO of the Saudi oil behemoth, Saudi Aramco, may be delayed or even canceled -- raising questions about how wise a financial idea it was initially.

It raises bigger questions, too: has he overreached and, more fundamentally, what sort of leader is he?

Until this moment he seemed just the sort of forward-looking ruler friends like Trump, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel could do business with, albeit against a background drumbeat of criticism from their electorates.

For any of MBS' perceived failings -- like the grinding war over his southern border in Yemen with its predictable dire toll of death and misery -- his stated desire to disengage and deliver a diversified, oil-free future for Saudis at home, Vision 2030, was a seductive narrative.

It kept a shine on international relations and greased the skids on massive controversial arms sales, some of which are killing Yemen's civilians.

So it seems strange with all that at stake, MBS is stepping out of what has become a carefully honed international image of well-intentioned reformer.

Everything started to go pear-shaped when Saudi Arabia found itself in a bust-up with Canada over slights about its Human Rights record.

In the space of a few hours, Saudi expelled Canada's ambassador to Riyadh, banned new business deals and recalled many Saudi students studying in Canada.

It smacked of Saudi's all-or-nothing approach to dealing with tiny Gulf state Qatar. A year into that dispute, MBS' allies -- the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt -- are still entrenched, refusing anything but a climbdown by Qatar's Emir.

On this, the world mostly looked the other way, presuming that given time, they'd dig their way out of their differences. Instead, MBS doubled down, pushing allies to pick a side.

And herein lies the danger of corrosion: like a drunken night out relived the next morning, every excruciating flaw in the thrill of the night before becomes magnified and impossible to ignore.

MBS' apparently Midas-like touch to sell an image -- against all probability, given Saudi Arabia's spotty reform record -- of being able to fix his Kingdom's woes risks losing its allure if his character flaws can't be overlooked.

Into sharp focus come reports this week that a young, female human rights activist arrested a few years ago will likely go to trial, where a guilty verdict could lead to the death penalty.

For MBS' allies, all his foibles and slips become accumulative. It's not hard to imagine cabinets bandying around the question of what is the political price at home for blindly following MBS' vision?

But if his recent retaliation against Canada has reopened questions about his youthful ambition, his temperament and his ability to deliver on his aims, then perhaps the latest revelation that funding for his grand reform plans may be under threat could really shake his hold on the Saudi narrative and the confidence of friends.

MBS rattled investor confidence last year, arresting several hundred senior royals and businessmen, accusing them of corruption. After being incarcerated in a luxury hotel, most were released early this year, albeit with lighter wallets.

A Saudi banker I met in Switzerland around that time told me few Saudis he knew were investing in their country.

Saudi officials are saying it was always their plan to time the Aramco IPO when it best suited their needs, a function of many factors including oil markets.

Former US President George W. Bush found out in 2005 that surges in patriotism only last so long.

His failure to grapple with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in a timely and effective fashion opened the flood gates to criticism over his handling of the Iraq war and the emergence of what was to become ISIS.

That facts and sentiment about Iraq had been pent up, building a critical mass behind post-9/11 patriotic barriers. But once confidence in Bush's abilities had been questioned all bets were off.

He didn't fail and fall, but was damaged.

MBS could be on a similar threshold. Latitude for all the good he might do for Saudis could become hamstrung if the political price of keeping him as a friend looks too steep.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 27900

Reported Deaths: 1082
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds215239
DeSoto137316
Madison122234
Jones106949
Neshoba96069
Lauderdale88278
Rankin84112
Forrest81442
Scott75015
Harrison7448
Copiah56615
Leake54819
Jackson53316
Holmes52741
Wayne52112
Washington4969
Lee49316
Oktibbeha48624
Yazoo4736
Leflore47249
Lowndes45311
Warren44317
Lincoln43534
Lamar4197
Grenada3805
Monroe36729
Pike36712
Attala35223
Lafayette3524
Newton3289
Sunflower3066
Covington3025
Bolivar27713
Panola2706
Adams26718
Chickasaw25918
Tate2577
Jasper2506
Marion24811
Pontotoc2476
Noxubee2458
Pearl River24432
Winston2435
Clay24210
Claiborne23610
Simpson2303
Smith20611
Clarke20124
Marshall2013
Coahoma1866
Kemper17614
Union1759
Walthall1724
Yalobusha1617
Carroll16011
Lawrence1591
Itawamba1278
Calhoun1244
Humphreys1239
Tippah12311
Webster12310
Montgomery1222
Hancock12013
Jefferson Davis1064
Tallahatchie1043
Prentiss983
Greene927
Jefferson923
Wilkinson919
Tunica893
Amite822
George743
Choctaw714
Quitman680
Tishomingo681
Perry614
Alcorn561
Stone521
Franklin382
Benton270
Sharkey240
Issaquena71
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 39604

Reported Deaths: 961
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4387142
Montgomery383999
Mobile3697134
Tuscaloosa204938
Marshall153710
Lee118937
Shelby108223
Madison10577
Morgan9813
Walker86723
Franklin85213
Dallas8198
Elmore81314
Baldwin6869
Etowah62513
Butler60427
DeKalb6025
Chambers58127
Tallapoosa56369
Autauga54511
Unassigned52025
Russell4840
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4446
Houston4344
Limestone4090
Cullman4003
Pike3995
Colbert3685
Bullock3629
Coffee3532
Barbour3231
Covington3087
St. Clair3042
Hale29321
Marengo28611
Wilcox2808
Sumter27612
Calhoun2705
Talladega2677
Clarke2665
Escambia2636
Dale2440
Jackson2382
Winston2333
Blount2141
Chilton2112
Pickens2116
Marion20312
Monroe1972
Choctaw19212
Conecuh1804
Bibb1711
Macon1708
Randolph1709
Greene1667
Perry1451
Henry1303
Crenshaw1233
Lawrence1010
Washington1007
Cherokee747
Lamar711
Fayette671
Geneva670
Clay582
Coosa551
Cleburne291
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Broken Clouds
87° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 95°
Columbus
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 87°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 94°
Starkville
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 85°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather