Why Trump and Mohammed Bin Salman Need Each Other

The United States has overlooked human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia for more than 70 years, but no president has cozied up to the oil-rich kingdom like Donald Trump—even as he seeks to disengage from the Middle East.
U.S. President Donald Trump poses for a photo with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20 in Washington, D.C.
FE_MBS_01_935190104 Source: Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

It’s not often that Ottawa provokes an international brawl. The issue: Saudi Arabia’s detention of several prominent women’s rights activists. Canada’s Foreign Ministry posted a tweet urging their immediate release—and Riyadh took it badly.

Accusing Canada of “blatant interference in the kingdom’s ­domestic affairs,” Saudi Arabia pulled its ambassador from ­Ottawa and expelled his Canadian counterpart, giving him just one day to clear out of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Trade with Canada was frozen, the managers of Saudi wealth funds were told to sell Canadian holdings, and airline links between the two countries were severed. The kingdom also halted payments for some 10,000 Saudi students enrolled at Canadian universities and 5,000 patients undergoing treatment there.

The fierce reaction bore all the hallmarks of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, the brash new power behind the Saudi throne. Though trade between Canada and the kingdom is minuscule, experts say the prince’s message was clear and aimed at a much larger audience. “If you criticize Saudi Arabia, there will be a price to pay,” former CIA Middle East analyst Bruce Riedel tells Newsweek.

The Trump administration got the message, and Canada, one of America’s closest allies and friends, found itself out in the cold. The State Department declined to get involved, advising the two sides to work it out themselves. “We cannot do it for them,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert during a press conference.

The episode showcased the muscular style that Crown Prince Mohammad has brought to Saudi leadership. Gone are the days when Saudi Arabia conducted its foreign policy largely behind the scenes, avoiding direct military confrontation with

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