Saudi Arabia's ambitious young Crown Prince won Donald Trump by flattering his ego, devastating Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and making Jared Kushner feel important, a new book reveals.
Mohammed bin Salman welcomed Trump's election victory in 2016 because the new President hated Obama's deal with Iran and, unlike the “annoying” Clinton, seemed to care little about human rights.
The 35-year-old heir to the throne, widely known as MBS and regarded as the de facto ruler of the kingdom, saw Trump as a "man who could be won over with a little flattery" – as well as nine-figure deals for US companies.
The prince's father, King Salman, joined the spell offensive with a joke when he spoke to the new U.S. president in 2017 while MBS played in front of his audience, berating Trump's favorite targets, Obama and Clinton.
Trump's trip to Riyadh in 2017, where he posed with a glowing ball and drank Diet Coke from a traditional Arabic coffee pot, was a triumph for the kingdom and for MBS, who ousted his cousin to become the new Crown Prince just weeks later.
Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, the authors of the new book Blood and Oil, say that Prince Mohammed knew how to ingratiate himself with fragile old men because of his experience with the Saudi princes, whom he was constantly outmaneuvering to secure power could.
Friends: Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, heir to the throne and de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman at a G20 summit in Japan last year
Ball of power: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Saudi Arabian King Salman and Donald Trump stand around an illuminated globe on Trump's trip to Riyadh in 2017
Trump's shock election victory in 2016 was received with fear and concern by much of the Islamic world after he promised to ban Muslims from the United States.
Before Trump ran for president, he had demanded that the Saudis give America "free oil" for the next ten years, otherwise we won't protect their private Boeing 747s.
However, MBS saw Trump as an opportunity – to treat his campaign slogans as nothing more than "noise" and to prefer him to the "annoying" Clinton, who was more likely to harass the kingdom on human rights and freedoms for women.
Furthermore, Saudi rulers hated the nuclear deal that Obama had signed with their archenemy Iran for fear that the Islamic Republic would use the economic gains to cause "turmoil" in the Middle East.
MBS also criticized Obama's reaction to the Arab Spring, trying to dazzle Obama officials with his utopian plans to modernize Saudi Arabia and reshape its oil-dependent economy.
The prince complained privately that "Obama stopped supporting us" and was furious when a petty Saudi king appeared to support the Democrats ahead of the election.
In contrast, Trump was a critic of the nuclear deal, which would pull the US out of the pact and leave it in ruins within 18 months of taking office.
In addition, Prince Mohammed privately sympathized with Trump's criticism of ultra-conservative Muslims, who gave Islam and Saudi Arabia a bad reputation in the West.
As soon as Trump was in office, the Saudis secured a publicity call by inviting Trump to his first overseas trip as president to the Gulf.
In a preparatory phone call, King Salman told Trump that he was a "great admirer" – to which the president replied, "Okay, King".
Salman said MBS would be in charge of organizing it, and took over Trump's reality TV catchphrase, "If you don't think he's doing a good job, tell him you're fired!"
Target of criticism: Former President Barack Obama, pictured in the Oval Office in 2013, was looked at wearily by Mohammed bin Salman
Rivals: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince saw Trump as his preferred candidate in the 2016 election, ahead of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton (pictured in an election debate).
Prior to visiting Riyadh, Prince Mohammed went to the White House and won a warm welcome by criticizing Obama and calling Hillary Clinton "disrespectful".
The prince then turned to Kushner, the president's son-in-law who has long seen himself as a change maker in the Middle East.
MBS and Kushner sent each other WhatsApp messages in which the prince stated that he was promoting a more moderate form of Islam.
Kushner told two Saudi envoys that the kingdom needed to be modernized, for example by allowing women to drive – a reform that had long been discussed but never implemented.
Ultra-conservatives had long warned that women's driving would be sinful and subject to harassment, and women who defied the law were fired and banned from traveling abroad.
Prince Mohammed saw things differently, believing that an angry and overcrowded youth with access to social media was a greater danger to him than the persistent clergy.
But although he already had reforms in his sights, Mohammed's subordinates allowed Kushner to believe he was exerting influence and convinced the White House adviser that the prince was a reformist.
The ban was finally lifted in June 2018, allowing women to sit in the driver's seat for the first time in Saudi Arabia's history.
In part, MBS sought to strengthen its own position within the kingdom, where the rules of succession have often been nebulous and personal relationships are key.
When Trump was elected, Prince Mohammed was only the third on the throne, behind Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who had many friends in the US establishment.
However, Kushner and his Trump adviser Steve Bannon immediately warmed up the prince, assuring MBS that Washington would not stop him as he planned to remove his rival.
When he did so after Muhammad bin Nayef stripped his titles later in 2017, there was no sign of protest from Washington as MBS was installed as heir to the throne.
Ceremony: Trump receives a medal from King Salman in 2017 – a stunt that worried Trump aides who said the president doesn't want to be touched
Influence: Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner (right) had the impression that he was influencing Saudi politics
"The prince knew exactly how to deal with Trump," say the authors of the book.
He had grown up in an extended family dominated by aspiring geriatric princes who feared humiliation, desperate for respect, and obsessed with increasing their inherited wealth.
"And Mohammed had learned to ingratiate himself with these fragile old men."
Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia in May 2017 and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh with separate suites for Donald and Melania.
The visit was a great success for the kingdom, which welcomed a "new partnership to fight extremism and terrorism" after the tense relations of the Obama years.
The trip had its dangers: White House aides worried about a plan for Trump to get a gold medal because the president doesn't like being touched by strangers, and country singer Toby Keith had to be sent away when the Saudis told so became Trump hates him.
Trump was served Diet Coke in a traditional Saudi coffee pot and caused consternation by failing to recognize some foreign leaders.
Much attention has been paid to a bizarre image of Trump, King Salman and the President of Egypt with their hands on a glowing sphere to mark the opening of a new state-of-the-art counter-terrorism center in Riyadh.
But MBS was able to improve its standing at home while Trump returned to Washington hoping for a new alliance and gifts like tiger skin robes and a jeweled sword.
There was later a setback in the Prince's relations with Trump when he was shown a card while visiting the White House that stated how U.S. firms would make $ 12.5 billion from Saudi arms sales.
The prince was left "privately angry" on the card, which seemed to indicate that the President of Saudi Arabia viewed little more than a market for US arms dealers.
Murder victim: The Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi (picture) was killed in 2018 – but Trump's criticism of the Saudi authorities was muted
However, Trump helped when the Saudis ordered the "blockade" of Qatar in 2017, accusing the country of aiding Iran.
Qatar is home to more than 10,000 U.S. troops, and Trump's aides warned the blockade would wreak havoc and leave Qataris struggling over basics like milk.
Trump allegedly responded by telling his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that "I don't care about milk" and Kushner said the Saudis should handle the matter as they see fit.
Obama's ambassador in Riyadh had repeatedly warned the Saudis that aggressive behavior in the region made it difficult for US politicians to support them.
In contrast, Bannon told Saudi Arabia's allies in the United Arab Emirates that Qatar must be brought under control and compared the country to Iran.
The following year, Trump's criticism of Saudi Arabia was subdued at the height of the Jamal Khashoggi investigation.
While cultivating its image as a reformer abroad, MBS continued to stamp out dissent and eliminate its political enemies domestically.
The scandal broke out in 2018 when the journalist and regime critic Khashoggi, who was murdered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, was cruelly killed.
Prince Mohammed denies involvement, but a UN special investigator said last year there were reasons to suspect the crown prince.
Trump called the killing a "terrible crime" but turned down calls for a tougher response, saying in 2019 that Saudi Arabia is a "big producer of jobs" and a buyer of US products.
Still, the murder clouded Prince Mohammed's image in the West and prompted some investors to cut ties with Saudi Arabia.
MBS had exchanged WhatsApp messages with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos about a possible investment of 2 billion US dollars by the company in the Middle East.
But Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, for whom Khashoggi wrote, canceled an appearance on Muhammad's "Davos in the Desert" after the murder.
Bezos traveled to Istanbul last year to comfort Khashoggi's fiancée Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting in vain for the journalist to return from the consulate in October 2018.
In January of this year, a report commissioned by Bezos revealed that his billionaire's phone was likely hacked by Saudi activists.
But other US companies are sticking with it – too valuable an ally to lose, with MBS, a millennial prince who could rule the kingdom for decades.
Blood and Oil: Mohammed Bin Salman's Ruthless Pursuit of Global Power by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck. Published by John Murray, £ 20.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Saudi Arabia (t) Obama (t) Iran (t) Hillary Clinton (t) Donald Trump