TEHRAN (Press Shia) – A senior American political commentator denounced Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “a psychopath” and said the kingdom’s ongoing hypocrisy against Qatar is just lunacy.
“The (Riyadh regime’s) hypocrisy of targeting Qatar and accusing them of harboring terrorism is just a kind of insanity,” John Steppling, who is based in Norway, said in an interview with the Press Shia News Agency.
“The 31-year old Prince and Heir Mohammed Bin Salman is, to be generous, inexperienced and impulsive…to be less generous is a psychopath, and he wants to leave his imprint on the kingdom sooner than later,” he noted.
Steppling is a well-known author, playwright and an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theater, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. He is also a regular political commentator for a number of media outlets around the world.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Press Shia: As you know, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain have cut diplomatic ties and also all land, sea, and air contacts with Qatar, accusing the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs. The four Arab states said in a recent joint statement that Doha's refusal to accept their demands to end the diplomatic standoff was proof of its links to terrorist groups. In its first reaction to the statement from the four, Qatar dismissed as "baseless" the renewed accusations that it was interfering in the affairs of other states and financing terrorism. What is your assessment of these developments? What are the reasons behind such a blazing row?
Steppling: There seem to be two factors at work here. One is that the 31-year old Prince and Heir Mohammed Bin Salman is, to be generous, inexperienced and impulsive….to be less generous is a psychopath, and he wants to leave his imprint on the Kingdom sooner than later. And hence his attempts to curry favor with the Trump family and the US in general. The second factor is that Trump could not find Qatar on a map if it was labeled. He is following Mattis and McMaster and the US military. The US went from Obama and the CIA (and Bush) calling the shots to Trump and the military. The Pentagon is calling the shots now. Under Obama, who has always been connected to the CIA, the covert end of US imperialism was in the fore. So, Mattis and the military are anti-Iranian zealots. The CIA was more interested in Russia I suspect. The military and CIA have the same goals but differ in strategy. The funding of militants and of DAESH (also known as ISIS) is classic CIA — where boots on the ground and more bombing is the military goal. Bin Salman perhaps senses he is on the clock. Regime change in the KSA is not out of the question, but he knows if he spends billions with the US defense industry, he is safe for now. As for Qatar; this is, I think, Bin Salman looking to leverage the favor he has with Trump. He probably, ideally for him, wants to absorb Qatar into the Kingdom. What that means for Turkey or the US base there are interesting questions. And all the talk of terrorists is idiotic. It is nonsensical. I mean even by their own metric it makes no sense.
Press Shia: In the joint statement, the four Arab states vowed to “take all necessary political, economic and legal measures” against Qatar in a “timely manner”. What actions or reactions do you predict from the four and the Qatari side? Do you think that Qatar can form coalitions with some countries like Turkey to confront the Saudi-led coalition?
Steppling: The four states are probably largely doing what the US tells them, or what they believe the US wants. Qatar has always been a bit too independent for Saudi thinking and taste. Plus they share the North Dome/South Pars field with Iran. And they also want to trade and sell natural gas in something other than US dollars. Any threat to the petrodollar will be seen as an attack on the US itself. I mean the US is in crises. The economy is dependent on military aggressions, and the infrastructure is falling apart and income inequality is on the rise. So the US is facing multiple problems and is being run by right wing Christian fanatics like Pence and Mitch McConnell and the rest…and by Trump, except that Trump is largely doing what he is told by the military or by some intelligence holdovers. Plus the influence of Israel is potentially much greater with Trump than with Obama. The Trump administration is chaotic, and there are contradictory voices and policies taking place. And none of these political actors are particularly bright. Clinton and Bush and Obama were war criminals but they surrounded themselves with competency — if looked at from their perspective. Trump has not. It is truly the blind leading the blind. The disconnect is huge. Mattis sold weapons to Qatar in June of this year. So, you can see, not everyone is quite on the same page in the Trump white house. Qatar will try to strengthen ties with Turkey and China is my guess, and with Iran.
Press Shia: Do the Saudi policies contribute to regional stability at all? In your opinion, is it possible that the siege and boycott of Qatar end up in a military confrontation? Do you see the future of the emirate similar to Yemen?
Steppling: The Saudis do the opposite of contribute to stability. They are both the errand boys of the US and under Bin Salman, now, the loose cannon in the Persian Gulf. And the hypocrisy of targeting Qatar and accusing them of harboring terrorism is just a kind of insanity. It may be that even the UAE tires of bin Salman. Same with Russia and China. That is a new high water mark for the hypocritical I would say. I do not see a military confrontation unless for some reason James Mattis or whoever at the Pentagon thinks of it as a good idea. But why would they? The goal is Iran. That was driving the aggression against Yemen. But Qatar has a bit more leverage than Yemen, which had none. That said, Bahrain cracking down on Shia dissent suggests the Washington has green lighted these monarchies to deal with problem minorities as they see fit.
Press Shia: Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, meanwhile has recently paid a trip to Saudi Arabia and met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, reportedly in a bid to ease tension in what has become the Persian Gulf's deepest rift in years. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also traveled to Kuwait on Monday on a similar mission. What geopolitical objectives are London and Washington pursuing in the Arab states?
Steppling: Boris Johnson is a clown. But part of that toxic ruling class in England. A class who seem to favor the buffoonish if they cannot find the anal sadistic. Anyway, the UK wants what the US wants…the sale of more weapons. The British High Courts just turned down a submission to end sales to the KSA because of numerous war crimes. They want to sell sell sell sell regardless of the destruction of Yemen and the proxy chemical aggression of Cholera…all predictable…and remember they sold to Qatar only weeks before calling them out on terrorism. It is all sort of absurd and a bit surreal. Tillerson does not know the politics of this region. He is a businessman. An oil broker. The nuances of regional ideologies are beyond the skill set of the US State Department right now. It is hard to know who exactly is the voice for policy in the US. My guess is James Mattis, but there are undercurrents of CIA and even other global financial actors exerting influence. But the goals are the same. Global hegemony. And first things first…that means for the US, to destroy Syria, break it up, and then somehow neutralize Iran. It is not been going to plan so far. My guess regards this recent visits is that bin Salman is going a bit too far off book. And they need to reel him in some. Or…they are setting up the KSA for regime change earlier rather than later. That is not likely however. Therefore, the US sort of needs Qatar and the UAE, and they just want to discipline their vassal states. Iranian independence is just intolerable for US policy makers. The US has never tolerated any Pan-Arabism or socialist autonomy in the region. This goes back to the formation of Saudi Arabia by Great Britain at the start of the 20th century. The demonizing of Iran in the Western press has escalated, much as the Russophobic propaganda has increased. The US, I think, fears the economic power of China when it cooperates with Iran and Russia. The United States looks to build up enemies, demonic and evil, but in reality relatively powerless (North Korea for example, or Iraq or Yemen or Libya). It serves for US/NATO wars to be justified, an expression of American exceptionalism (Imperialism under any other name) and it allows the funding of sub-contracting of proxy wars (ISIS in Syria, etc). Or just covert destabilizing like we see in Venezuela today. That is what a 4 billion dollar a day defense budget buys you. Massive violence against the global south. And speaking of NATO, that is an entire other discussion because one is starting to see EU frustration with US war and arrogance. They, Europe, will continue to do what they are told (Merkel bowing to the Saudi minister…which I guess if you bow to global monetary institutions and Banks, it becomes a habit) but not forever. It is not in their interests and that is something the US leadership has yet to realize.