Tags: War on Terrorism | John Hannah | Mohammed bin Nayef | MbN | terrorism | Saudi Arabia

Ex-Cheney Adviser: Saudi's Deputy Crown Prince Likely Ally in War on Terror

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Monday, 26 January 2015 06:40 AM Current | Bio | Archive

With the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last week and the resulting succession within the royal family, America should look to newly minted Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as a key U.S. partner in the war on terrorism, John Hannah, onetime national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, told Newsmax.

"It appears that the long-anticipated move to the grandsons of [Saudi Arabia’s founder] King Ibn Saud has now occurred," Hannah told us two days after the death of King Abdullah on Jan. 23. "Upon taking the throne, King Salman quickly named Mohammed bin Nayef, also known as 'MbN,' as the deputy crown prince.

"MbN is 55 years old and now stands second in the line of succession after Crown Prince Muqrin, who at 69 is the youngest of Ibn Saud’s surviving sons."

Much like the young Bill Clinton was for Democrats in the 1980s and Sens. Marco Rubio (Florida) and Rand Paul (Kentucky) are for Republicans today, 'MbN' is considered a generational leader whose peers within the royal family will assume power shortly.

Hannah, who also worked at the U.S. State Department under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, pointed out that "MbN is widely regarded as one of the most competent and professional of the next generation princes.

"From his longtime perch at the Interior Ministry dealing with counterterrorism issues, he’s well known and well regarded by the U.S. government and other Western powers — who no doubt heaved a sigh of relief with his appointment. They view him as a critical partner in the battle against al-Qaida, ISIS, and Islamic radicalism more generally."

As to MbN’s durability in maintaining his perch as second-in-line to the throne, Hannah cited the fact that "both the new king, Salman, and MbN’s father, Nayef, were part of the so-called 'Sudairi Seven,' Ibn Saud’s sons from his favored wife. The Sudairi have long formed perhaps the most powerful faction within the Al Saud family.

When it comes to fighting radical jihadism, many Middle Eastern experts consider Saudi Arabia the equivalent of the shopkeeper who pays "protection money" to the Mafia.

"The Saudis are clearly an imperfect counterterrorism partner, to say the least," said Hannah. "Saudi Arabia’s Faustian bargain with the radicals — don’t threaten us directly and in exchange we’ll allow you to thrive — in the end produced a Frankenstein's monster.

"Al-Qaida threatened to torpedo the kingdom’s most important security relationship with the United States, and, even worse, bin Laden eventually declared war on the House of Sahd itself, posing a mortal threat to the regime’s survival. At that point, King Abdullah made a decision that he had no choice but to confront al-Qaida directly and crush it before it crushed him."

It was largely due to Mohammed bin Nayef’s work as Interior Minister, he added, "that the Saudis did an effective job of ruthlessly exterminating bin Laden’s networks inside the kingdom. While far from perfect, progress was made in stemming Saudi terrorist financing. Some of the most radical Saudi clerics were reined in. Some of the worst incitement in the Saudi media was toned down. Modest changes were made to some of the vilest passages in school textbooks.

"It will take sustained U.S. pressure and partnership to keep the kingdom moving forward as an effective counterterrorism ally. The balance sheet on Saudi counterterrorism policy is likely never to be perfect, but real progress has been made over the last decade.

"Having Saudi fighter pilots running bombing raids against ISIS is no small thing. Having Saudi imams publicly condemn ISIS as apostates makes a difference."

All things considered, Hannah doesn’t see "the Saudi commitment against ISIS wavering significantly in the wake of Abdullah’s death. It’s worth noting that the new king’s son, Khaled bin Salman, was among the Saudi pilots that flew in the first wave of attacks on ISIS last September.

"The existential challenge ISIS poses to the Saudi ruling family certainly isn’t going away. Equally important is the fact that the Saudi leader in charge of their anti-ISIS policy is Mohammed bin Nayef."

Any discussion of Saudi Arabia among Americans usually begins and ends with its oil policy. Hannah believes there’s no sign currently that Abdullah’s passing will change the Saudi decision to allow oil prices to plummet.

"Salman said as much in his first speech as king," he said. "The Saudis seem intent for now on maintaining market share and stemming the rapid growth of higher-cost U.S. shale production. They’re also no doubt mindful of the increased pressure that lower prices are inflicting on their Iranian rivals.

"With one of the largest reserve funds in the world, the Saudis seem to believe that they can withstand the budgetary hardships of low prices for some time to come."

As to how long the new king will stick with this policy, Hannah said that a good clue might be the fate of the powerful oil minister, Ali al-Naimi.

"Naimi has been the mastermind of the decision to let prices go into free fall," he told us. "For now, Salman has decided to keep him on, a sure sign of continuity. If a decision is eventually made to move Naimi aside, it could well be an indicator that changes are afoot in Saudi oil policy."

Would King Salman or MbN as a future king attempt major reform of Saudi’s social system, including more elections and improving the status of women?

"The insular, conservative, reactionary nature of the system strongly militates against it," said Hannah. "Stability and survival are prioritized above all. No one ever made money betting that any Saudi leader will undertake dramatic reforms."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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With the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the resulting succession within the royal family, America should look to newly minted Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as a key U.S. partner in the war on terrorism, John Hannah, onetime national security to Dick Cheney, told Newsmax.
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Monday, 26 January 2015 06:40 AM
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