Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, investigative reporters for The Wall Street Journal, varied their approach on the subject of “Blood and Oil: The Unseen Quest for Global Power by Mohammed bin Salman.” For a certain type of reader, this book would be perfect. It is alive and well written, and it draws a sharp picture of man in its heart.
But forewarned this is a book on an exciting but narrow subject: MBS’s desire for wealth and how it binds to its drive for power. On that subject, Hope and Scheck did a lot of digging and got some surprising stories.
Many of the stories are not sourced, however. They often appear to be true but impossible to ascertain. And as F. Gregory Gause, one of the leading Western academic experts in Saudi Arabia, would like to say, when it comes to the royal family, those who know do not speak, and those who do not speak.
Ultimately, because of this focus, geostrategic and geoeconomic factors are often short on what they say. Thus, they have a whole chapter on MBS that bought a painting by Leonardo da Vinci for $ 450 million but only a few pages in the decision to intervene in Yemen, arguably Riyadh’s most important (and destructive) strategy of the last 30 years.
At times, they asserted a narrative corresponding to their emphasis on MBS foibles at the expense of these other dynamics. So the oil war in 2020 with Russia, where Riyadh flooded the market to try to force Moscow to agree to joint production limits, was reduced to a byproduct of MBS overproduction.
Whatever role the ego plays in this, this version ignores the facts that the price of oil is plummeting, and Saudi and other manufacturers are desperately needed to stabilize it, but Russia refuses to do so. Moreover, the Saudi decision to flood the market and push the price to less than $ 20 per barrel worked. It forced Moscow to agree to a reduction in production as well as a huge success for Riyadh.
Every alliance is difficult. Even Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt failed each other – let alone Stalin and de Gaulle.