Sign In  |  Register  |  About Burlingame  |  Contact Us

Burlingame, CA
September 01, 2020 10:18am
7-Day Forecast | Traffic
  • Search Hotels in Burlingame

  • ROOMS:

What my interview with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reveals about the power of democracy

I recently interviewed the crown prince of Saudia Arabia. The Kingdom's leader sat down for his first interview entirely in English. Our discussion inspired reflections on democracy.

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Watch the Fox Nation special 'To Rescue the Constitution' on Sunday, October 8 at 10 pm. The special, hosted by Bret Baier, dramatically reveals the life of George Washington, the Founder who did more than perhaps any other individual to secure the future of the United States.

The helicopter flew over the clear blue waters of the Red Sea landing on the island of Sindalah, a new Saudi resort under construction, part of more than one trillion dollars of construction projects in the Kingdom. The wind swept off the water and the chopper landed on the 18th hole of the just completed Robert Trent Jones Jr. course as cranes swung in the distance working on the condos scheduled to be completed around the island course in the coming months. 

As I walked out of the helicopter, the gravity of the moment sunk in. This was the location the Saudis had chosen for my interview with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

My interview with the Saudi Crown Prince was the first ever to be conducted entirely in English. The Crown Prince, the de facto leader of the Kingdom, is young—only 38— and its first modern leader. 


The people I talked with on my trip, including ordinary citizens, described him to me as a visionary leader. And this is reflected in his clear desire to transform his kingdom and make it a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. His willingness to answer all my questions—without any restrictions about what I could ask or what topic I could cover—was a sign of this overture. 

I was quite aware of conducting this interview against the backdrop of a period of crisis in our own system of government. As I speak to people about my upcoming book, "To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment," they frequently respond with concerns about whether our constitutional system can survive this era of turmoil.

Everyone seems worried these days as we head toward a presidential contest between two unpopular standard-bearers, with the violence provoked by the last election still hanging heavily over the process. And yet, as I sat down with the Crown Prince, I remembered Winston Churchill’s famous words: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

The contrast between our systems of government couldn’t be greater. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with all power at the top. It is also a theocracy where the rule of law is determined by Sharia law. 

Our messy, fragile system of government gives power to the people, stirring up the kind of conflicts that you don’t see in dictatorships where the people lack a voice or are punished or worse for expressing dissent. 

These differences are highlighted by some of the key controversies which I addressed with the Crown Prince. Top of mind was the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. It remains a controversy because of unanswered questions about the Crown Prince’s role. A CIA investigation concluded that he had ordered the killing, a charge he has denied publicly. He assured me that anyone involved in the killing has been brought to justice, but the lack of transparency and the lingering questions about his own role remain troubling.


Likewise, Americans have questions about Saudi Arabia’s connection to the September 11 attacks. I was blunt with the Crown Prince: "As you know, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and the 9/11 victims’ families, they make their feelings clear, especially around the anniversary, that they believe there is intelligence that links the Saudi government to supporting or facilitating those hijackers. What do you say to those 9/11 families 22 years later?"

He agreed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and that Usama bin Laden had masterminded the attack. But he put a new spin on it, claiming that the Saudis were victims of 9/11 as well—that it was part of an effort to break up relations with the West, not an explanation that will carry much weight with 9/11 families, but one he argued was the goal of the terrorists. The Crown Prince has instructed his government to go after radical jihadists and has taken steps to turn the focus of education away from religious extremism.

But again, in a closed society lacking in transparency, where information flows only from the top, there is little possibility of a full airing of difficult topics. Yet the Crown Prince answered the questions, in English, and his ministers painted a picture of a Kingdom on the move—one dramatically and quickly changing on several fronts.

It was clear to me during my visit that the Saudis preferred to shift the focus to their booming economy and increasingly prominent role in the world, as the second fastest G20 economy. 

The Kingdom’s economic success, including its recent foray into sports, is heralded by many as a sign of its modernization and potential. But once again, surrounded by the gleaming evidence of economic growth, I was forced to reflect about the differences in our systems. 

Our economic prowess would not exist without our democracy and our system of government, technically a representative republic. Although we fervently argue about the details, our democracy holds capitalism in check—in the best case, it forces government to be responsive to the needs of the people. Monarchies can be benevolent, but it’s one person who makes that decision. 

Just imagine if all our economic decisions were made by a single individual. It’s the very state our founders dreaded most and were most careful to guard against. We had already seen what could happen under the rule of a monarch who did not have our best interests at heart. We are stronger for our Constitution.


The interview was chock full of news about Saudi Arabia, the region and the world. As I left Saudi Arabia, an important nugget of news had already received world attention. In fact, as we were at the airport ready to get back to Riyadh, we received a call letting us know that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had seen the interview and wanted me to travel to New York to interview him on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly the next day, so he could respond. 

I changed my travel plans and headed to New York. During my interview with the Crown Prince, I had asked him about about reports that the Saudis had put a pause on efforts to normalize relations with Israel. 

He denied it, saying negotiations continued a pace, adding, "Every day we get closer" to normalization. He vowed that his country would work with Israel, predicting, if details lined up, "the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War."

I landed in New York at 8:30 in the morning. Three hours later, I was sitting down with Prime Minister Netanyahu. When I asked him about the Crown Prince’s words, the prime minister smiled broadly and echoed the optimism. "I was delighted to hear what he had to say," he said. "I think we're getting closer to peace every day that passes." 

All sides are optimistic. The devil is in the details and there are major hurdles to overcome, especially the specifics of what will be offered to the Palestinians by Israel. But, should it all come together as envisioned, the normalization deal has the potential to change the face of the Middle East forever.

The United States has long been a key broker on the complex peace process in the Middle East. Our stature and our constitutional integrity give us that authority—a process that started in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in May of 1787.


Data & News supplied by
Stock quotes supplied by Barchart
Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes.
By accessing this page, you agree to the following
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2020 & California Media Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.