Al-Monitor | Bruce Riedel: The House of Saud played Donald Trump like a fiddle on his historic visit to the kingdom, showering him in ceremony and accolades that pandered to his scandal-wracked administration’s need for diversion from its own self-imposed mistakes. For the Saudis, it was also a diversion from their own blunders, especially the expensive and endless quagmire they created in Yemen.
As an absolute monarchy, the kingdom is proficient at the business of pomp and ceremony. The ornate palaces, not open to the public, provide perfect backdrops. After being severely unhappy with the last two American presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they wanted to demonstrate their high hopes for the Trump team. The royals know that flattery will bring rewards, especially when the target is desperately seeking to be seen as competent. They expect a more aggressive approach to combating their archenemy Iran, which has outmaneuvered from them from Beirut to Basra for years.
The presidential visit also gave King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud the opportunity to demonstrate the enormous convening power of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the Sunni Muslim world. With control of access to Mecca and Medina for pilgrims, the king literally controls access to a holy obligation of every Muslim. With decades of financial largesse, the kingdom has built a network of mosques and other institutions across the Sunni Muslim world that are dependent upon Saudi favors. The Saudis could invite their fellow monarchs from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council for a summit with the president and dozens of other Muslim leaders for another summit, confident that most would come when called.
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