President Donald Trump has once again destabilized American foreign policy with a single tweet.
Trump's tweets were issued in response to an order by Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to detain 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of other powerful politicians and businessmen under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign, according to Bloomberg. Although the State Department and other foreign policy officials had refrained from offering comment, Trump's tweets will be perceived as decisively siding with the actions of the king and crown prince.
Many outside observers are skeptical of the royal family's claim that the arrests are motivated by corruption, according to The New Yorker. This is in part because King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are building many of the same types of businesses that they are now claiming constitute corruption among their peers. It is also, however, because the arrests have managed to remove a number of potential rivals from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's path to power in the kingdom.
Since the death of King Ibn Saud in 1953, the hundreds of royals who have followed him have tried to rule by consensus rather than violence. Yet between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent purges and his implementation of radical reforms — including some that the United States likes, such as weakening the religious police and allowing women to drive, and some that it dislikes, like an economic diversification plan which some have compared to a Ponzi scheme — it is clear that he wishes to be a bold and revolutionary leader in Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps more importantly when it comes to American policy interests, the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia will make it harder for investors to ascertain whether the region is stable. As a result, investors may demand a higher risk premium as a way of offsetting the perceived increase in threat in the country.
While Trump's tweet may upset that delicate equilibrium even further, it may also prove to be harmless.
"There is repeatedly a discrepancy between his tweets on issues such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Qatar and the policies he allows his secretaries of defense and state to pursue," James Dorsey, a student of Saudi Arabia as a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Bloomberg. "Trump’s tweet certainly would have been welcomed by Mohammed bin Salman, but it remains to be seen what it means in practical terms and policy."