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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, in July 2017. Photo: Presidency Press Service / AP

In Saudi Arabia, foreign and domestic policy have long been intertwined: Royals use diplomacy to consolidate legitimacy at home but also to solicit consensus from Saudi elites that acts to buttress their policies abroad. All that has now changed.

In seizing vast executive powers, as in this weekend's sweeping arrest of royals and officials, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is undoing the last of those checks and balances — princely economic and security fiefdoms that acted as countervailing influences. He has freed himself to engage in ill-fated confrontations abroad that dilute Saudi power, exposing the kingdom to greater military threats and scaring off investors.

Complicating matters further, the crown prince has opened too many fronts at once: military entanglement in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and a campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. Most recently, he has accused Lebanon of being a hostile power because of the dominance of the pro-Iranian group Hezbollah.

Why it matters: By risking instability and even open conflict, these moves undermine Saudi Arabia's power and play to the strengths of its regional rivals. Iran in particular thrives on disarray in the Middle East, and its militant proxies far outmatch the kingdom's.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.