Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of Saudi Arabia is the undoubted Middle East man of the year, but his great impact stems more from his failures than his successes. He is accused of being Machiavellian in clearing his way to the throne by the elimination of opponents inside and outside the royal family. But, when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s position in the world, his miscalculations remind one less of the cunning manoeuvres of Machiavelli and more of the pratfalls of Inspector Clouseau.
Again and again, the impulsive and mercurial young prince has embarked on ventures abroad that achieve the exact opposite of what he intended. When his father became king in early 2015, he gave support to a rebel offensive in Syria that achieved some success but provoked full-scale Russian military intervention, which in turn led to the victory of President Bashar al-Assad. At about the same time, MbS launched Saudi armed intervention, mostly through airstrikes, in the civil war in Yemen. The action was code-named Operation Decisive Storm, but two and a half years later the war is still going on, has killed 10,000 people and brought at least seven million Yemenis close to starvation.