Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
SAUDI Arabia is a very important country with a young population. Now, after a succession of elderly rulers, it is looking at the unprecedented possibility of a young ruler who has exhibited a willingness to ensure that his country adjusts to the modern world in the way the youth want but which conservative forces have thus far blocked. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, in exercise of the authority vested in him as Ruler, has appointed his son Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) as the Crown Prince, thereby ensuring that the 31-year eldest son of the King and his third wife Princess Fahda will succeed him. Although several commentators have expressed surprise at this move, the reality is that from 2012 onwards, after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, he has been next in line to King Salman, who at that point in time became the Crown Prince.
It was only in 2015 that the young business expert was made to give up this prized slot in favour of uncle Nayef, who was made Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia when King Salman took over after the passing away of King Abdullah. Before this, MBS had been appointed State Minister in 2014 and a year later, was made Defence Minister. Since then, the youthful heir to the Saudi throne has been taking a considerable amount of interest in military matters, for example being the prime mover behind the 2015 invasion of Yemen, mainly by Saudi forces out to ensure the return to Sanaa of Mansur Hadi, who for decades has been a loyalist of the Saudi Royal Family, as indeed are several politicians and officials across the region and beyond.
Crown Prince Mohammad is a determined individual fixated on getting his own way, which indeed seems to have been his destiny, seeing how far he has come in five years as a consequence of the complete confidence that King Salman has in him. Despite its immense financial reserves, Saudi Arabia has its limitations, as has been shown by the lack of military breakthroughs in Yemen and Syria despite huge outlays. The example of President George W Bush is before the world. Apparently to avenge the effort made by Saddam Hussein to kill his father George H W Bush, the 43rd US President went to war in Iraq. As a consequence, the Taliban were enabled to return to deadly effectiveness in Afghanistan.
Despite the false claims made by President Bush and his associates, the only link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda was their mutual distaste of each other. Soon after he was deposed and the government of Iraq headed by a US national rather than a native of that country, terrorist groups sprang up throughout Iraq and beyond, militias that include Daesh. More consequently, not only the US but the world economy has been weakened by the wars of George W Bush, none of which he could complete during his two terms in office. The other example the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia should examine is that of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who met only partial success in his efforts at building a Great Society because of the money cost and political turmoil of the Vietnam war.
It is clear from the records that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy would have wound down the war despite advice to the contrary from his Cabinet. However, Johnson lacked the confidence to push aside the bad advice he was getting from Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and his generals. The same fate seems to be afflicting President Trump, who seems unable to moderate the policy options being pushed by his Cold Warrior Defence Secretary James Mattis and his generals, almost all of whom seem to believe that the Atalanticist-Orientalist phase of human history is still relevant, when in fact this construct has been overtaken by the realities of the present Indo-Pacific century.
Should the 45th President not show some of the robust attachment to realities that he displayed while on the 2016 campaign trail, Mattis is on course to spark off a war between the US and a combination of both Iran as well as Russia. Certainly it would appear from the evidence that the US has encouraged Crown Prince Mohammad to create a set of conditions that have the potential to result in an all-out conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a development that would devastate the region as comprehensively as George W Bush and the real power behind Barack Obama, Cold Warrior Hillary Clinton, have reduced Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and large parts of Iraq to chaos. The new Crown Prince has shown his understanding of the imperative of Saudi Arabia going through a reform process that would free the young from the constraints that the hyper-conservative elements within the Kingdom have for long imposed.
To be fair, King Abdullah (despite his age) initiated a process of reform, although this was partial in its effects. The new Crown Prince has been far bolder, challenging those who seek to keep much of Saudi institutions and society in the same straitjacket that existed two centuries ago, before the Kingdom came in contact with the most modern countries then extant on the globe. King Abdul Aziz showed great wisdom in ensuring the independence of the giant country that he created and named after his own family. During his time, Abdul Aziz was as much of an innovator as the new Crown Prince has shown himself to be in matters of society and the economy, unlike in the case of defence, which he oversees with a conservative vision that shuns moderation against those he sees as wholly different from his own country and its people. Should Crown Prince Mohammad focus on peace rather than on war, on conciliation rather than conflict, he could change the destiny of his people as comprehensively as King Abdul Aziz bin Saud did a century ago.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.