Well, Adel al-Jubeir has been demoted by King Salman in what I suppose could be characterized as the first real “shakeup” since the international outcry over the murder of dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Al-Jubeir’s face is well-known to the international community and it looks like his demotion from foreign minister to whatever the hell “minister of state for foreign affairs” is, is yet another attempt to deflect blame from embattled Crown Prince Mohammed.
Riyadh’s damage control efforts since Khashoggi’s murder in early October have been an abject failure. There’s a strong argument to be made that the only reason the Kingdom hasn’t seen more internal strife is because Donald Trump simply refused to countenance the idea of ostracizing Prince Mohammed, a friend of Jared Kushner’s and a staunch ally of the White House in the ongoing effort to keep oil prices low and curtail the regional ambitions of Tehran.
Trump’s unwavering support for the Crown Prince (which included an outright denial of the CIA’s assessment of the Khashoggi killing) was not without consequences. Indeed, the White House paid a heavy price on Capitol Hill, where the backlash resulted in a legislative push to pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
Additionally, Trump found himself at odds with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has leveraged the voluminous evidence gathered by his intelligence apparatus to extract what certainly look like concessions from the White House. Essentially, Erdogan has the closest thing anyone is going to get to “proof” that Prince Mohammed ordered and orchestrated the killing and he appears to be holding that over Trump’s head in order to 1) get the ball rolling in earnest on the extradition of Fetullah Gulen and 2) compel the U.S. to pull its troops out of Syria thus freeing up Turkish forces to target the YPG who Erdogan equates with the PKK.
Do note that we’re not trafficking in conspiracy theories here. Our assessment of Erdogan’s maneuvers around the Khashoggi killing is based on a common sense read of the situation and the available news flow.
The Saudis are still attempting to stave off a situation that sees Prince Mohammed usurped, and Russia this week warned that the U.S. should not play any role in facilitating or otherwise encouraging a royal shakeup. Here’s what Putin’s Mideast envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, said in Moscow on Tuesday:
Of course we are against interference. The Saudi people and leadership must decide such questions themselves. The King made a decision and I can’t even imagine on what grounds someone in America will interfere in such an issue and think about who should rule Saudi Arabia, now or in the future. This is a Saudi matter.
Right. Although not really, because it’s a monarchy, so it’s not exactly like “the people” have a say. Kind of like how the Russian “people” don’t really have a say in whether Putin gets to be President, unless you think it’s actually possible that he won 77% of the vote in the last “election” (scare quotes there for obvious reasons).
Anyway, Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf will now be the Kingdom’s top diplomat. Hilariously, he was among those who were locked up in the Ritz Carlton during the Crown Prince’s “corruption” crackdown a year ago. As far as I know, he escaped from that incident unscathed, but maybe someone more well-versed in Saudi internal politics knows different.
One certainly imagines that Prince Mohammed is irritated with al-Jubeir for not doing more to shape the narrative or otherwise clear ol’ bone saw’s “good” name on the international stage. I can’t imagine this demotion is something al-Jubeir is “proud” of.
Also sacked is Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi ambo to the U.K. That’s probably related in some way, shape or form to the Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz drama, but again, that’s just me speculating.
In any case, this is just more palace intrigue the ultimate goal of which is probably to both pacify the international community while simultaneously helping out the Crown Prince in one way or another.
At the end of the day, Riyadh needn’t worry. After all, Trump isn’t going to be in favor of any kind of action from Washington that trips up Prince Mohammed on his way to the throne and even if he was, he’d likely run into a “Presidential” veto…