Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ray Close on the Saudis - Then Me on the Saudis

An interesting post at Juan Cole's Informed Comment.

I recall in the period right after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when I was in liaison with the Saudis, that the Israeli Air Force used to make frequent very low level runs over the Saudi airbase at Tobuk, in the northern part of the country. As they skimmed the "deck", they would drop empty fuel tanks on the runways, near where the Saudi fighter planes were lined up, just to remind those on the ground that the empty tanks could very easily have been 500-pound bombs. It was nothing more than an arrogant demonstration of contempt for Saudi impotence. It worked. The RSAF never fired a shot, and never scrambled a single interceptor. They would complain to me, and I would duly forward their protests to CIA HQS. We never got even a polite acknowledgement back from the Israelis, who, in their arrogance, were no doubt cynically amused. So I can easily imagine Bashar al-Asad's decision to play this current incident in a very low key! It is not a mark of cowardice, but of realism and prudence.

Similarly, I recall when Prince Fahd bin Abdal Aziz called me to a meeting very late one evening in the early days of the 1973 war and asked me to send an urgent personal message from him to Richard Nixon informing the president that he had felt obliged to contribute a brigade of Saudi troops to the Golan front to support the Syrian offensive there, but that he had personally instructed the commander of the unit not to fire a single shot. That, Fahd told me with considerable emotion and obvious sincerity, was his solemn promise to his American friend. Again, prudence, wisdom, and desire to maintain a traditional and mutually valuable relationship --- motives that were not, I regret to say, received in Washington with the respect and appreciation that they deserved.

Instructed the commander not to fire a shot? These things could never be written about a democratic Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi Arabia whose leadership was selected in a competitive process. It is uncomfortable to say that Saudi Arabia is a terrible reflection of Islam.

Apartheid South Africa had the technological and industrial advantages Israel has over its neighbors, including a regional nuclear monopoly. It also had gold and diamonds. Tanzania, one of South Africa's most active rivals had a main export crop of sisal, which is a fiberous plant that can be used to make rope. But Tanzania, along with almost every other African state, supported the Black South Africans. The ANC and PAC, even as they were labeled terrorists by the West and the US, were trained, funded and supported significantly by the poor countries of Africa. Now there is no European settler state in Africa. A one state solution, no bantustans. Anyone who wants an Afrikaaner state will have to go somewhere that an Afrikaaner majority can be produced without expelling or disenfranchising Black people.

Saudi Arabia has the greatest concentration of natural resource wealth in the world. Tanzania exports sisal, a crop few people have ever heard of. Apartheid is over. Zionism is still here twenty years after Apartheid. There is something defective about the Saudis. They have an ineffective political system, and they are encouraged to maintain that system by the Americans, who do so to protect Israel's interests. But the fact that they have tolerated this situation as long as they have points to a defective belief system. It is not objectively possible that they have the same belief system that traveled west to Spain and East to Indonesia.


Richard said...

Oh, I'd say that's easily explained by the simple concept that most people in the ME believe about the Saudis - they're corrupt.

It's simple corruption. They want the money, the (local) power, the palaces that kowtowing to the US and the oil companies allows them to have.

They're a "royal family" with several thousand "princes". If that's not a sign of deeply inbred corruption, I don't know what is.

They aren't Muslims, or even Arabs. They're simply corrupt monkeys.

There's a scene in the movie "The Kingdom" where the FBI agents visit one of the princes in his palace. He's busy explaining his hunting falcons to them. That's the sort of thing they care about.

They're the "Paris Hiltons" of the Middle East.

A few of them, of course, have some smarts. Prince Bandar, for example, the former Ambassador to the US, probably has some smarts.

But overall, their conception of the world is simple greed and power on the level of a low-level Mafia don.

Arnold Evans said...

Here's the thing, Paris Hilton isn't a political figure. China had a Paris Hilton political leadership. They were deposed. Russia had a Parish Hilton political figure. The whole family was shot. France had one. They invented a new mechanical capital punishment method for them.

England's wasn't killed because she gave up power. On paper she can veto some laws or something. Let her use her power contrary to what the British people want and see how fast they snap her neck.

So this corrupt family, and its not one, its like ten or something, is tolerated in the Middle East.

That explains how ineffective they are at statecraft but it needs an explanation itself. Maybe the explanation is Western support and maybe the explanation is Islam, maybe Sunni Islam, maybe a combination of things.

Richard said...

China's "royal family" was deposed by the Communist movement. Russia's was. France's was removed by a similar social movement.

There aren't any significant or political movements in the ME, except fringe outfits like radical Islam like Al Qaeda or the Iranian mullahs.

At one time, they had "Arab nationalism" which was a secular combination of socialism/Communism and nationalism. That petered out and was replaced by "radical Islamism" - which is on one hand basically the Shia rising up against Sunni oppression, and on the other hand Sunnis rising up against Western oppression.

The Saudis are in essence neither Sunni nor Shia, regardless of how many Salafists are in their ranks or in their country. They're simply corrupt power holders. They hold their power like every other power holder does: by a combination of repression, bought loyalties, and bullshit. And in their case, support from the US - which is why even though they started out as Salafists, the current Salafists hate their guts.

It's not that they're "tolerated in the ME" - it's that nobody can figure out how to drop them. Iran might eventually figure out a way.But Syria can't, the UAE are too small, Iraq is no longer a factor. Who else is there given their location, their occupation of the main oil, and their support by the US? Who has the military power and the money to take them down besides the US and Israel - and maybe some day, Iran?


Who takes down the Mafia in New York, despite there being an obviously lucrative result if you can? Outside of the movies, where you see black gangs or whatever taking on the Mafia, it just doesn't happen. Maybe the Russian Mafia would, but nobody else can. They're too entrenched. So are the Saudis.

I don't think there's a religious reason. I don't think Islam is involved - except in the sense I mentioned above, that the Salafists are now against them in a more direct way. It's just that the Saudis have managed to use their oil wealth to play off everybody against each other and to attract the "big dog" support of the US, despite being basically thugs.

If the US didn't need as much oil from them as we do, and didn't sell them billions in weapons, they'd be in a lot worse shape than they are now.

Take this latest multibillion-dollar weapons sale. That was obviously a bribe to go along with the US attacking Iran - which is a dangerous situation for them. They obviously weren't in favor of the US attacking Iran, regardless of any enmity they might feel toward the Iranian mullahs, if any. But give them $20 billion in weapons, and hey, everything is fine with them.

I think it's that simple and doesn't need any deeper explanations.

By the way, they recently sent an emissary to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and tried to get a deal for Al Qaeda to back off. The Saudis know how dangeous Al Qaeda will be to them sooner or later. So they tried to buy them off. They have no way - other than the US - at striking at Al Qaeda in Pakistan, so they tried bribery. Typical thug tactics. Al Qaeda refused.