What Happened in Saudi Arabia Last Night — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It
Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain. As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately. For the past two years, Otaiba has introduced MBS around Washington and offered assurances of his commitment to modernizing and reforming Saudi Arabia, according to people who’ve spoken with him, confirmed by emails leaked by the group Global Leaks. When confronted with damning headlines, Otaiba tends to acknowledge the reform project is a work in progress, but insists that it is progress nonetheless, and in MBS resides the best chance of the region. “I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of saudi,” Otaiba said in one representative note. “I think MBS is far more pragmatic than what we hear is saudi public positions [sic].” In an email to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Otaiba laid out his thinking clearly while thanking him for a column.
Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2017
Thank you for taking the time to go out there and meet with MBS. As someone who knows the region well, it looks from how you wrote this piece, that you are beginning to see what we’ve been saying for the last two years. Change! Change in attitude, change in style, change in approach. I think we would all agree these changes in saudi are much needed. So i’m relieved to find you saw what we’ve been seeing and frequently trying to convey. Your voice and your credibility will be a huge factor in getting reasonable folks to understand and believe in whats happening. Our job now, is to [do] everything possible to ensure MBS succeeds.In an unusual move, Saudi Arabia even recently hired the UAE’s longtime public-relations firm, the Harbour Group, run by Otaiba friend Richard Mintz. Richard Clarke, most well known for his public apology to 9/11 victims for the intelligence failure, was brutal in his criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the attack. An Otaiba friend, he is now chairman of the MEI’s board and has personally lobbied Saudi Arabia for funding, walking out of the Saudi embassy with a $500,000 check. Michael Petruzzello, the longtime Washington hand for Saudi Arabia, is also on the MEI board. Gulf countries that are family-run dynasties tend to produce the same kind of family rivalries seen the world over. In Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Otaiba’s mentor and boss who is known as MBZ, has long detested Mohammed bin Nayef, who was in line for the Saudi throne, going so far as to publicly call him a monkey. MBZ and Otaiba saw MBS as the way to derail bin Nayef, and exert control over the larger country by elevating the junior prince. The campaign worked, and was largely cheered in Washington. Scholars at the think tanks that are backed with Saudi and UAE money say they pride themselves on their ability to speak and write freely, and bristle at any suggestion that the funding corrupts the intellectual product. That claim has always been dubious, but the next few days will put it to the test in a way it never has been tested before. The post What Happened in Saudi Arabia Last Night — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It appeared first on The Intercept.
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