By Cathy Burke
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s attacks neighboring Qatar is “over the top” and “proving embarrassing,” former U.S. ambassador to Qatar Patrick Theros said Sunday.
“The war in Yemen is going badly, and the confrontation with Qatar is proving embarrassing,” Theros told radio host John Catsimatidis on “The Cats Roundtable.”
“I frankly see a lot of chance for a downside, which is instability in the region, perhaps even instability in Saudi Arabia, and not much chance that he’s going to hurt the Iranians as much as he would like to, nor much chance that he’s going to divert the attention of people domestically,” Theros said.
Salman also has mishandled what he describes as an anti-corruption purge of members of the royal family.
Theros said there likely is widespread corruption that needs to be rooted out, but that Salman has a “really good intention that seems to be going bad.”
Theros said Salman “is determined to reform Saudi Arabia,” including its “bloated” royal family, and a “clerical class” that has “kept the nation back” from instituting modern reforms.
“He’s young and he’s going to look clumsy while doing” it, Theros said.
“They’ve got a huge swamp” that has “been building over two or three generations,” Theros added. “You don’t drain it overnight.”
Theros said Salman also resorted to a “classic mistake”: “When you run into domestic problem you try to create a foreign enemy.”
“He didn’t do it well,” Theros said, noting he escalated a feud with Iran, got into a war in Yemen that has become that country’s Vietnam, and “picked a fight” with Qatar — a “pipsqueak” nation that is now “defying him” in an “embarrassing” conflict.
“I’m sure . . . within the kingdom of Saudi Arabia there’s opposition building up,” Theros said — and Salman’s response was order to round up perceived enemies.
Within hours, security forces had arrested dozens of members of Saudi Arabia’s political and business elite, mostly in the capital and the coastal city of Jeddah. Among them were 11 princes as well as ministers and wealthy tycoons.
Salman said the purge was in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.” Insiders said the accusations were based on evidence gathered by the intelligence service.
“He’s made huge enemies within his own family and with the clergy,” Theros said.
“It is way too early to tell where things are going,” added Theros, “but frankly I see a lot of chance for a downside, which is more instability in the region” as well as inside Saudi Arabia while leaving Iran unhurt.
Reuters contributed to this report.