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President Trump holds up a chart of military hardware sales during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House on March 20, 2018. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool via Getty Images

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has carried out the most extensive rebranding campaign ever by a Saudi royal. Since his appointment last June, he has presented Saudi Arabia as a modernizing kingdom eager to do business with Wall Street and Silicon Valley while becoming the United States' chief ally against Iranian expansionism.

Yes, but: President Trump has cast serious doubt over his own commitment to that vision, even before the crown prince ends his three-week, multi-city tour of the U.S.

The crown prince, who is also the defense minister, has worked to cement a relationship with Trump and his administration in the hopes of bolstering American military and political support for his campaign to roll back Iranian gains in the Arab world.

Although Trump has frequently assailed Iran’s aggressive behavior beyond its borders, he offhandedly announced last Thursday that he would “very soon” pull out the 2,000 American troops in Syria — where, by opposing Bashar al-Assad, they are also holding the line against expansionism by Iran. The crown prince immediately cast doubt on the wisdom of such a move, which could allow Iran to establish a land corridor across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.

In another sign of tension, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, after his meeting with the crown prince last Thursday, declined to express support for the Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Mattis said “urgent efforts” were needed to end the civil war there, which has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The bottom line: Nothing Trump administration officials said during the crown prince’s visit suggests the two share an anti-Iranian strategy beyond rhetorical denunciation of its nuclear and political ambitions. After seeing up close how unpredictable Trump can be, the future king of Saudi Arabia has reason to worry about his kingdom’s 75-year-old security dependency on the U.S.

David Ottaway is a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.