Pre-release: Understanding the Schemes and Dreams of Saudi Arabia’s Next King

As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) kicks off his visit to the United States this week, what can we make of his attempts to remake the kingdom’s economy and social life—from  last November’s arrests of hundreds of elites on corruption charges, to diversifying the Saudi economy and reducing its dependence on oil, to allowing women to drive? In a pre-released essay from the May/June Foreign Affairs, Texas A&M University’s F. Gregory Gause III notes MBS’ “concentrated authority and evident will to shake up the system make it possible for him to do great things. But he has also removed the restraints that have made Saudi foreign and domestic policy cautious, conservative, and ultimately successful amid the crises of the modern Middle East” and asks “whether the crown prince can pull off his high-stakes gamble. . . . without destabilizing his country and adding to the region’s chaos.” Gause cautions, “Washington should pay close attention to how the crown prince handles the aftermath of his anticorruption campaign. If MBS becomes his country’s Xi, then the United States should maintain its pragmatic alliance, which is based on mutual benefit rather than shared values. But if MBS turns out to be more like Putin or Henry VIII, privileging political cronies and treating the private sector as his personal ATM. . . .  then the longer-term prospects of the kingdom in a world where oil prices are unlikely to return to the historic highs of the early years of this century will be much less certain. In that case, the United States will need to look elsewhere for a partner in stabilizing the region.” The essay is available now at ForeignAffairs.com, and the full issue posts on April 17. This link bypasses the paywall on ForeignAffairs.com for one month following the release date. We encourage journalists to share with their audiences.

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