Quote of the Day:
Sixty percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The economic benefits of the Iran nuclear deal are not going to the people. They took $150 billion after the deal — can you please name one housing project they built with this money? One park? One industrial zone? Can you name for me the highway that they built?
–Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the Iranian nuclear deal in The Atlantic
Yes, there are huge problems with the Saudi regime.
Allowing women drive automobiles isn't quite enough to convince us that the regime is suddenly enlightened.
However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's wide-ranging interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, in which the prince says that Israel has a right to its land and compares Iran's Supreme Leader to Hitler, contains some glimmers of hope for the Middle East.
The Crown Prince's acknowledgement that Israel has a right to exist proffers some hope that some of Israel's Arab neighbors are at last ready to accept her. This is what he said:
“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation," he said. "I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.
It is possibly only the threat of Iranian hegemony of the region that is encouraging some Muslim leaders to view Israel in a slightly different light.
The Crown Prince takes a different stance towards his Iranian neighbor from the one U.S. negotiators, chiefly then-Secretary of State John Kerry, took during the Obama administration. Here (excerpted from a helpful Fox condensation of The Atlantic interview) is some of what he said:
Prince Mohammed then took aim at Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader [of Iran] is trying to do," the crown prince told The Atlantic. "Hitler tried to conquer Europe. This is bad. But the supreme leader is trying to conquer the world.
Asked about the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran — which President Trump has long lambasted — the crown prince sided with the current White House.
“President Obama believed that if he gave Iran opportunities to open up, it would change,” he said. “But with a regime based on this ideology, it will not open up soon. Sixty percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The economic benefits of the Iran nuclear deal are not going to the people.
“They took $150 billion after the deal — can you please name one housing project they built with this money? One park? One industrial zone? Can you name for me the highway that they built? I advise them — please show us something that you’re building a highway with $150 billion. For Saudi Arabia, there is a 0.1 percent chance that this deal would work to change the country. For President Obama it was 50 percent. But even if there’s a 50 percent chance that it would work, we can’t risk it. The other 50 percent is war. We have to go to a scenario where there is no war.”
Before you raise your hands to point out that Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers were Saudis, yes, that is true.
We don't need to be naive about the Saudis any more than we were about the Iranians.
But we should pay attention to what the Crown Prince is saying.
Looking into the longer Atlantic conversation, I see more of the prince's perspective on why Iran poses a threat, which is wildly different from the Obama team's rosier view. He speaks of a triangle that is trying to re-establish the caliphate:
First in the triangle we have the Iranian regime that wants to spread their extremist ideology, their extremist Shiite ideology. They believe that if they spread it, the hidden Imam will come back again and he will rule the whole world from Iran and spread Islam even to America. They’ve said this every day since the Iranian revolution in 1979. It’s in their law and they’re proving it by their own actions.
The second part of the triangle is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is another extremist organization. They want to use the democratic system to rule countries and build shadow caliphates everywhere. Then they would transform into a real Muslim empire. And the other part is the terrorists—al-Qaeda, ISIS—that want to do everything with force. Al-Qaeda leaders, ISIS leaders, they were all Muslim Brotherhood first. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of ISIS. This is very clear.
On a tour to try to change the image of his country, the prince tries to downplay the importance of Wahhabism, a radical form of Islam, which the Saudis have financed and spread. Likewise, the prince's remarks on the rights of women in Saudi Arabia fall short of a resounding endorsement of the rights of women:
There are a lot of conservative families in Saudi Arabia. There are a lot of families divided inside. Some families like to have authority over their members, and some women don’t want the control of the men. There are families where this is okay. There are families that are open and giving women and daughters what they want. So if I say yes to this question, that means I’m creating problems for the families that don’t want to give freedom for their daughters. Saudis don’t want to lose their identity but we want to be part of the global culture. We want to merge our culture with global identity.
Let's hope the pull of western values will help Saudi women (and we can be a voice for them,too).