The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt successfully lobbied President Trump to shift U.S. policy in Libya and reach out to the general leading an offensive against the country’s United Nations-backed government, a senior U.S. administration official and two Saudi officials said.
In early April, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi urged Mr. Trump to back Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are seeking to capture the Libyan capital Tripoli amid a long-running battle for control of the oil-rich country.
About a week later, Mr. Trump called Gen. Haftar, and “discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said.
Previous reports have shown that Trump’s decision to back Haftar and his attack on Tripoli followed requests from Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed and Egyptian President Sisi. Saudi support for Haftar’s offensive has been obvious for many weeks, and it makes sense that their government was also involved in lobbying Trump on this issue. As far as I know, this is the first time that the Saudi crown prince’s direct involvement in lobbying Trump has been reported. The fact that Trump was so easily moved to overturn existing U.S. policy at the request of three despotic clients is not surprising after the last two years, but it is a clear example of how these governments wield an alarming degree of influence with the president and his administration. All that it takes to get Trump to rewrite U.S. policy according to their preferences is to ask him to do their bidding and he readily agrees. The proposed designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is another example of how easily these governments dictate policies to this administration.
The Saudi crown prince appears to have won Trump over to their side by portraying the internationally recognized government as an ally of terrorists:
Prince Mohammed told Mr. Trump that militias in Tripoli were affiliated with Islamic State and al Qaeda, U.S. and Saudi officials said.
There is considerable irony in Mohammed bin Salman using a government’s supposed connections with Al Qaeda to discredit them in Trump’s eyes, not least since it is the Saudis and Emiratis that have been working with, recruiting, and arming associates of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The reality is that the internationally recognized government in Tripoli has been a partner of the U.S. in combating the local ISIS affiliate, and Haftar’s reckless offensive has diverted resources and attention away from that fight to deal with the assault backed by the Saudis, Emiratis, and Egyptians. Once again, the Saudis and their regional allies are destabilizing another country, undermining counter-terrorism, and seeking to increase their influence at the expense of the civilian population. Trump has predictably fallen in line behind them because that always seems to be his response. Much of U.S. foreign policy in North Africa and the Middle East is increasingly nothing more than doing what these despots and dictators want the U.S. to do for them, and U.S. interests never enter into it.