The Saudi king who both opened an era of closer relations with the US and lent legitimacy to the radical Islamists which target us died earler today. King Fahd had ruled in name only for the past decade after suffering a debilitating stroke and real power had been wielded by his brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, only three years younger at age 81:
“With all sorrow and sadness, the royal court in the name of his highness Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and all members of the family announces the death of the custodian of the two holy mosques, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz,” according to a statement read on state-run Saudi TV by the country’s information minister. …
The Saudi statement said the new King Abdullah announced that his half brother and the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, 77, would be the nation’s next crown prince.
During his rule, the portly, goateed Fahd, who rose to the throne in 1982, inadvertently helped fuel the rise of Islamic extremism by making multiple concessions to hard-liners, hoping to boost his Islamic credentials. But then he also brought the kingdom closer to the United States and agreed to a step that enraged many conservatives: the basing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
This will not mean much in terms of any change to the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. Abdullah has run the country for Fahd for ten years, and Abdullah’s policies are the ones in play now. The real key to the future of Saudi-American relations may not be either Abdullah or Sultan, but whoever comes after that. Abdul-Aziz had many sons, but they have all reached old age. At some point the Saudis will have to turn to the second generation of royalty to lead their nation, a diverse generation that has both more Western and more radical Wahhabist elements than the first.
With the older generation fading away, we will probably see the true future direction of Saudi royalty in ten years or so. By that time, we had better have beaten and discredited Islamofascism, or our task may be made exponentially more difficult by the Saudi succession.