Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Washington on Monday to kick off a two and a half week visit to the United States. It’s hardly his first trip to America, but it will certainly be the most important.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince wants to restructure the Saudi economy and wean it off its decades-long dependence on oil wealth. Critics point to the crowd rights abuses and lack of democracy still characterize Saudi politics.
He presents himself as a young man in a hurry, shaking up a country whose leadership well known for its caution and conservatism. His social changes allow women to have the right to drive, movie theaters and the powers of the once-ubiquitous religious police are being controlled.
His domestic moves have won widespread praise in Washington and elsewhere, but his actions overseas have proved far more controversial.
When Mohammed meets with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday, they will probably see eye-to-eye on Iran, Riyadh’s longtime foe. Reports indicate that the Trump administration will probably pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran. It is possible to trigger a confrontation with the Islamic Republic that will be cheer in Saudi Arabia.
Beyond this, things get trickier. Mohammed is the architect of a shattering Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. He also helped trigger the ongoing Persian Gulf crisis with Qatar. It has largely backfired, doing little to boost Saudi prestige and exposing profound splits within the Trump administration.
Then there’s the dilemma posed by Trump. After clashing with President Barack Obama, the Saudis were perceptible when Trump came to power.