Reports indicate that the Saudi regime is running out of US-made patriot air-defense missiles along with obvious signs that Washington is subtly distancing itself from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).
It is an indication that once the old king Salman bin Abd al-Aziz dies, the US will make a move in Riyadh to keep a firm grip on the kingdom.
What will the US do to overcome the multitude of political liabilities created by MbS’s recklessness, is probably not fully clear even to the US ruling elites.
If Washington approaches MbS from what we could call the CIA angle, it would make sense to keep him in power.
This approach would allow the US to retain direct leverage in the Arabian Peninsula via the highest office in the region.
To make sure MbS remains weak as king would be an ideal policy if looked at strictly from the perspective of an intelligence agency.
Every intelligence agency aims to recruit or control an asset in the highest echelons of power.
Thus, if MbS is kept in power as a weak monarch, this would be an ideal outcome for the US intelligence apparatus.
From a purely political establishment perspective, call it a White House or State Department outlook, MbS is a major soft-power stain on Washington’s global agenda.
He has become a liability that everyone can point to in order to discredit America’s image and soft power.
In the grand scheme of things, MbS is not a long-term card to play.
He is reckless and clearly not a statesman.
Thus, it will be quite difficult for his handlers to manage him once he becomes king.
MbS’s ego and lack of foresight will make him an extremely difficult asset.
No US political institution or faction will want to take responsibility for managing MbS because of his recklessness and volatility.
Thus, the question is: how will the US resolve its MbS dilemma?
The primary US emphasis will most likely be to keep the mechanics of MbS’s removal as clandestine as possible.
Washington knows that if the Saudi regime is engulfed in turmoil, Turkey and Iran will try to fill the vacuum in the Hijaz and the wider Gulf region.
The emphasis on making sure that MbS does not become king will be to maintain the fiction that the power struggle in the kingdom is purely an internal matter.
Strategically speaking, Washington has for decades cultivated people and institutions in the kingdom. It should not be difficult to push for a policy desired by the US during the transition of power.
However, MbS’ lack of statesmanship and little understanding of political norms combined with his recklessness, makes Washington’s approach formulated within normative state framework quite unpredictable.
Another key unpredictable variable during the transition process in post-King Salman Saudia is the Islamic movement in Yemen.
The Ansar-Allah movement has shown itself as a competent military and political player which charts its own mode of operations, independent of any other regional actor.
It cannot be excluded that witnessing a Saudi regime in transition and infighting, Yemen might make a dash to liberating Makkah and Madinah.
While this may sound far-fetched, few could have predicted in 2014 that a relatively recently established Ansar-Allah movement would be able to govern Yemen effectively and not only repel aggression by a coalition of powerful states, but also turn the tables on them and go on the offensive.
If the war in Yemen does not end before King Salman’s death, the Ansar-Allah might end up playing a much more significant role in determining what happens to MbS than Washington.