Throughout his time on the job, President Donald Trump has pretty consistently capitulated to the interests of foreign dictators. Saudi Arabia is no exception — the country was the first place that he visited overseas as president, and a newly available excerpt from a book about the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (otherwise known as MBS) reveals how the apparently murderous despot spent millions of dollars on preparations to receive Trump. The dramatic accommodations were meant to help cement the Trump team as Saudi loyalists — after all, MBS concluded that “big deals, audacious praise, and treating the elected president of a republic like a visiting king” were the best means to “get Trump’s attention,” as the book excerpt put it.
The book in question is called Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power, and it was written by Wall Street Journal correspondents Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck. According to reports, MBS eventually ordered the execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident and was killed in Turkey by a Saudi hit squad, and whose death Trump has consistently refused to take overly seriously.
That incident occurred after Trump visited Saudi Arabia, which Hope and Scheck’s book reports the following about:
‘To show Trump that he—not [Mohammed bin Nayef]—was the most fervent fighter of terrorism in the Saudi government, Prince Mohammed brought engineers and a construction crew to transform a decrepit Royal Court hotel lobby into a Battlestar Galactica–style “war room” for a new anti-extremism center under Mohammed’s control. As later became clear, it was more a made-for-TV set for world leaders to convene on than an indicator of any kind of significant shift in Saudi priorities.’
A showy, photo op-ready “war room” wasn’t the only thing that the Saudis had to offer. The Saudis even spent millions to pay country music star Toby Keith to pause an ongoing tour and come perform in the country — but Trump apparently doesn’t like the singer, so plans were abruptly shifted to keep the performance and presidential visit separate. The book adds:
‘The Saudis presented Mr. Trump with a pile of lavish gifts—bejeweled sculptures, swords, daggers, headdresses, and a robe lined with white tiger fur among them—and Trump and his staff would return to the United States claiming a foreign-policy victory of resetting ties with Middle East allies.’
Apparently, MBS used Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner as a key link in their effort to turn the president’s team to their side. Reporting on developments after plans were established to host MBS at the White House, the book says:
‘Right away, Prince Mohammed’s energetic team started a charm offensive focused on another millennial who rose to power on the back of his family relations, Jared Kushner.’
Later on, the book adds:
‘In the interactions that followed, Prince Mohammed gave Kushner confidence that he was a new kind of prince, one who understood the importance of the world of money and technology and wasn’t interested in age-old grievances.’
Kushner, like his father-in-law, had absolutely zero experience in government prior to assuming his present role. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t attempted to handle outlandishly steep tasks anyway — he’s been involved in areas from Coronavirus response to Israel-Palestine peace negotiations, neither of which have been the site of any particularly compelling success recently.