Others say: The reckless prince

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 2:04 a.m.

Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince known for his bold and sometimes reckless steps to transform his country and its place in the Middle East, has staged his biggest coup yet. Over the weekend, 11 princes and three dozen other senior officials and big businessmen were arrested on his orders, including the commander of the national guard, the economy minister and Saudi Arabia's leading international financier. Though they are reportedly being held in luxury hotels, Saudi media are describing them as "traitors," an ominous sign of what may be in store.

As if that were not enough for one weekend, the 32-year-old prince flexed Saudi muscles across the region. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a client, announced his resignation on a Saudi television channel, triggering a crisis with Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which was part of his coalition.

The young prince appears to have the full support of President Donald Trump and senior advisers such as Jared Kushner, who visited Riyadh and conferred at length with the crown prince only days before the crackdown. If so, it's a risky bet.

His Western supporters imagine that Prince Salman is concentrating power so as to lead his deeply conservative, oil-producing country on a forced march to modernity. Saudi women were recently told they would soon be allowed to drive. A wave of arrests in September swept up many conservative clerics.

Yet Prince Salman's resort to heavy-handed tactics and ill-judged adventures could easily undermine hopes for progressive reform and destabilize the kingdom. He is arresting not just hidebound Islamic clerics but liberal journalists and human rights activists who ought to be his natural allies.

Most seriously, the war the young prince launched in Yemen in 2015 has become a quagmire and fuels what is probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

To the extent it backs Prince Salman's gambles, the Trump administration is needlessly risking U.S. equities in the Middle East. Rather than indulge the young ruler, it ought to be pushing to curb his excesses, both at home and abroad.

Editorial on 11/10/2017