From the White House to Hollywood, Mohamed bin Salaman rode a crest of positive press as bodies continue to pile up in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (known as MBS) has had what can only be considered a spectacularly successful visit to the United States — especially after a President Donald Trump approved a $1.3 billion artillery deal on Thursday.
As the Associated Press reported on Friday, that’s only part of the arms package MBS has secured on his two week visit. He has also secured another $1 billion arms deal last month — comprised mostly of missiles.
In theory, U.S. lawmakers have a month to block the latest deal. But given that they voted to table a resolution that would have stopped U.S. support of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen — which have killed thousands, including children, and are the subject of a U.N. human rights investigation — this seems unlikely.
While in the United States for his two-week trip, MBS met with President Donald Trump, of course, and discussed Iran, a country whose influence they are both trying to temper — MBS with threats against Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Trump with added sanctions and promises to pull the United States out the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
He had coffee at a Manhattan Starbucks with business tycoon and former New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, rubbed shoulders with higher ups a Harvard and MIT in Massachusetts, and has been schmoozing Hollywood, making deals with Cirque du Soleil as well as AMC Cinemas.
MBS has also been glad-handed by Silicon Valley executives at Google and was given a tour of Boeing facilities in Seattle.
That businesses would court MBS is not unusual. What’s interesting is the almost breathless tone of most of the press he’s received on this trip. For instance, he granted an interview to The Atlantic, which noted that he is the first Arab leader to ever acknowledge “the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state.”
“No Arab leader has ever acknowledged such a right,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg. Despite having the error pointed out to them, the magazine has yet to correct that statement.
Headline after headline covering MBS’ trip to the United States calls him a “reformer,” owing to the fact that the Saudi kingdom will finally allow women to drive this summer and will allow them to attend sports games in stadiums.
Very few mentioned the country’s role in killing civilians in Yemen with airstrikesand aid blockades, its unabated use of the death penalty, or its guardianship laws that still leave women dependent on permission of a male relative in virtually every major legal and financial transaction.
The very day MBS checked into the Four Seasons in Hollywood, the New York Times reported that Saudi airstrikes killed 14 civilians, mostly women and children, who had wandered out of their shelters in the stifling heat in an effort to cool down in Yemen’s port city of Al Mukalla. The strike was described as “an instant midmorning slaughter in a residential housing area.”
Time magazine is among the few publications that brought up some of the more thorny issues in its interview with the crown prince, who noted that the United States also has the death penalty and that Saudi is aiming to reduce its number of executions “big time.”
When asked about the flogging and jailing of activists and bloggers, the prince compared many of the those activists imprisoned to the man who planned the September 11 attacks in the United States. “In the ’90s, they used to call Osama bin Laden the same thing and he turned out to be the biggest danger for the whole world,” he said (effectively comparing Raif Badawi to the man who planned the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States).
MBS will head to France next, where it is expected he will try to turn the tide against Iran. France is among the three European signatories to the nuclear deal and is among the parties pushing to save the deal.