There came a moment during Donald Trump’s April 2 phone call to Mohammed bin Salman when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, apparently stunned by what the American president had just said, asked his aides to leave the room. No courtiers were present when their master, no slouch at intimidation himself, was apparently bullied into submission.
It could not have been otherwise. Trump had, in effect, threatened the complete withdrawal of American troops from the kingdom if the Saudis didn’t slash oil production. MBS, as the prince is commonly known, could hardly have missed the dire implications, for himself and his family. As Trump has put it, with characteristic crudeness, the kingdom’s rulers “might not be there for two weeks” without U.S. military backing.