In an upcoming interview on 60 Minutes, Crown Prince Mohammed ibn Salman speaks of his country’s rivalry with Iran in disparaging terms. He makes one astonishing claim and another which seems debatable, if not wrong. The interview comes as he prepared for his maiden voyage to the U.S., where he hopes to bamboozle entrepreneurs with his massive plan to wean Saudi Arabia off oil and diversify its economy. To do this, he will have to solicit a huge influx of western investment to create these new commercial initiatives. Given the way he manhandled hundreds of wealthy Saudi businessmen and princes over the past few months, extorting much of their wealthy from them under torture or threat of torture, these financiers would be well-advised to use caution in lightening their wallets.
Here’s the interview transcript:
NORAH ODONNELL: You’ve been rivals for centuries. At its heart, what is this rift about? Is it a battle for Islam?
MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN: Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.
Um, wrong. Iran’s army is ranked fourth in the Middle East, followed by none other than…Saudi Arabia. Overall, Iran’s military is ranked 21st in the world. While the Saudi prince is correct regarding respective economies, Iran has a far more diverse economy than Saudi Arabia. There will come a time when Saudi oil reserves will be depleted. If MBS’ scheme fails, his country will have nothing to fall back on. While Iran has the potential to diversify its economy in numerous ways.
NORAH ODONNELL: But I’ve seen that you called the Ayatollah, Khamenei, “the new Hitler” of the Middle East.
MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN: Absolutely.
NORAH ODONNELL: Why?
MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN: Because he wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.
Er, we’re having a really bad history moment here. First of all, there’s no evidence that Iran wants to “expand” in the same way Hitler did by invading, conquering and occupying much of Europe. As for recognizing the danger of Iran, it’s easy to make the argument that Israel and the Saudis themselves are at least as aggressive and expansionist as Iran in the region.
Those of you who heard echoes of this bombast in the remarks of other Mideast leaders, Bingo! You’ll recall Bibi Netanyahu’s equally mendacious historical claim that Tehran is Munich and today is 1938. The rhetoric is precisely the same. The only difference is that Bibi dressed it up a bit more dramatically (and hysterically). MBS doesn’t have Bibi’s flair for drama. But the result is the same: two bogus leaders ginning up hysteria by creating false parallels between their arch-enemy and one of the world’s great villains. There is no comparison. Attempting to create one defames history and truth.
Of course, there are scores of U.S. bankers and business-people eager to taste those Saudi petrodollars. They won’t be put off by a brutal klepto-royal with a shaky grasp of history. But if this is any indication of what MBS’ rule will bring to the Middle East, all I can say is caveat emptor. Invest your billions with this guy and you’re buying a pig in a poke. My apologies to my Muslim readers for associating a Muslim with a pig. But in this case, if the hoof fits, wear it!
Finally, MBS offered the entirely reassuring statement that if Iran made a nuclear weapon, his country would follow suit:
NORAH ODONNELL: Does Saudi Arabia need nuclear weapons to counter Iran?
MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN: Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.
While such a statement is undoubtedly meant to buttress the hardline position of Israel and Trump that not only must Iran be stopped before it gets a nuke, but the P5+1 nuclear deal must be torn up as a prerequisite for halting Iran’s nuclear goals. But instead, it raises a red flag for those of us frightened that yet another U.S. administration will be hoodwinked into facilitating yet another Middle Eastern country’s entry into the nuclear arms race.
You’ll recall that the U.S. ( and France) played key roles in supplying the nuclear materials and expertise which enabled Israel’s entry into the world of nuclear-armed nations. Now, Donald Trump proposes to repeat the same error with the Saudis. Under the guise of helping them develop a nuclear energy capacity, the president proposes supplying the House of Saud with a nuclear reactor and American expertise in building it. It’s a slam dunk. What could go wrong?
Let’s just remember that Pakistan is only one political upheaval away from rule by Taliban-like Islamist hardliners. And it has The Bomb. Whose hands could such weapons fall into in the event that Islamists overthrow Pakistan’s government? God only knows. Now Trump proposes to drop The Big One (or at least the precursor to one) into the lap of yet another shaky Mideast regime. What could go wrong?