Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year old Saudi crown prince in the process of purging his blood-relation rivals for the throne, is an “inveterate player of video games,” in Michael Wolff’s explosive book Fire & Fury. A lesser-explored section of the book shows MBS throwing himself into owning Trump as a step toward consolidating his own power. His path was to ignore Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in favor of son-in-law Jared Kushner – looking to family channels instead of formal ones is a characteristic of most authoritarian countries – like “meeting someone nice at your first day of boarding school,” a Kushner friend observed. Leveraging Trump’s ignorance, Kushner’s inexperience, a shared hostility toward Iran and the administration’s allergy to Obama’s foreign policy, MBS dangled a shiny orb in front of the White House: Middle East peace, to satisfy Trump’s longing for a grand victory. It’s MBS who brokers Trump’s Louis XIV-like reception in Riyadh, a gaudy spectacle of adulation in which the Saudis assembled a host of Middle Eastern strongmen to seal a symbolic allegiance with Trump through touching a bizarre glowing sphere. “Jared’s gotten the Arabs on his side,” Wolff quotes Trump. When MBS moved in November to purge his opposition, Trump “would tell friends that he and Jared had engineered a Saudi coup,” Wolff writes, with Trump boasting: “We’ve put our man on top!”
The immediate question for the Trump-MBS relationship is whether MBS can actually deliver the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab peace entente Trump desires, a herculean task under any circumstance and one complicated even more by Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as exclusively Israeli. But MBS, now entrenched as crown prince, already got what he wanted from Trump.