Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saudi anger at the US supposedly makes Saudi Arabia work harder for US/Israeli interests

One reads these stories about how Saudi Arabia is upset with the United States - most recently one by David Ignatius in the Washington Post and thinks "he can't be serious".
Saudis describe the kingdom’s growing role as a reaction, in part, to the diminished clout of the United States. They still regard the U.S.- Saudi relationship as valuable, but it’s no longer seen as a guarantor of their security. For that, the Saudis have decided they must rely more on themselves — and, down the road, on a wider set of friends that includes their military partner, Pakistan, and their largest oil customer, China.
So the story apparently is that Saudi Arabia is angry with the United States for not supporting Mubarak and for abandoning its demand that Israel stop its settlement expansion. In its anger, Saudi Arabia is buying more weapons from the United States, giving more money to pro-US dictatorships in the region and taking more aggressive steps against anti-US regimes, most notably Syria.

So what would Saudi Arabia do if it was happy with the United States?

Another part of the story is that Saudi Arabia is going to be more confrontational against Iran. Why? The people of Iran disagree with the people of the United States about whether or not Israel is legitimate. But the people of Iran agree with the people of Saudi Arabia about that. Israel sees Iran as its enemy, but why would Saudi Arabia?

This supposed rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran (that began when the Shah was removed) was concocted entirely in Washington DC and Tel Aviv with instructions issued to the Saudi government through the US embassy. It is really a conceptual mistake to think of Saudi Arabia as an independent agent in the Middle East. The Saudi government is an arm of US Middle East policy. Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others, is effectively a US colony - accountable for policy only to the United States and certainly not to any domestic constituency.
Big weapons purchases have been a Saudi penchant for decades. More interesting, in some ways, is their quiet effort to provide support to friendly regimes to keep the region from blowing itself up in this period of instability. The Saudis have budgeted $4 billion this year to help Egypt, $1.4 billion for Jordan, and $500 million annually over the next decade for Bahrain and Oman. They will doubtless pump money, as well, to Syria, Yemen and Lebanon once the smoke clears in those volatile countries.

“In outlays, we’ve budgeted $15 billion a year just to keep the peace,” says one Saudi source, adding up the economic assistance to Arab neighbors. But that’s hardly a stretch for a country that, by year-end, will have about $650 billion in foreign reserves.
None of the countries in the string of US colonies in the Middle East would pursue policies remotely resembling those we see if domestic voters could remove them for failing to adhere to the values of the people they rule. But Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the United States, is spending huge amounts of money to prevent that from happening.

Which brings us to Ignatius and articles like this - articles that claim that Saudi Arabia is asserting its independence from the United States without pointing to any action that the United States would not approve of. The point of this article is exactly to direct the readers attention away from relationships that, in 2011, does not differ in any tangible way from the relationship the predecessor governments of today's colonies had with Imperial Great Britain in 1911.

What Ignatius is doing is helping Americans behave as colonialists without thinking of themselves as colonialists. Americans are sometimes offended at the suggestion that the relationship between the US and most of the Arab world is colonial, but not offended by the fact that these governments are accountable to the US and not to their own people.

Saudi Arabia spends almost two and a half times more money on weapons than Israel and buys its weapons from a supplier that explicitly commits that Israel will militarily dominate Saudi Arabia and any combination of other countries that might join it. Saudi Arabia does not respond to Israel's nuclear program. Saudi Arabia uses its money to oppose every anti-Zionist organization in its region. Saudi Arabia does these things because the United States tells it to. If instead, the US instructed the Saudi government to hold contested national elections, the Saudi government would submit to that US demand just as easily.

Ignatius, this story and all of these stories that we are reading ultimately are aimed at distracting Americans away from the realities of the relationship between the US and the string of colonial dictatorships that the US maintains for Israel's sake. They are effective because Americans want to be distracted. It is a small piece of good news that the minority of people in the West who don't participate in this multi-sided delusion does seem to me to be growing.


lysander1 said...

Very well put, Arnold. Saudi Arabia is the one country without which US Middle East policy would collapse. But I find myself wondering by what means the US controls Saudi Policy? If the ruling family decided tomorrow to reconcile with Iran and act in opposition to, scratch that. Let us say they decide on neutrality. No opposition to Israel but also no opposition to Iran, Syria, Hizbullah...what could the US do about it? They can't sanction the world's biggest oil producer. And they can't practically invade, either. I don't think they can easily engineer a coup.

So, what makes the Saudi leadership behave as they do? A secret agreement with Great Britain in the 1920's? A threat of assassination? Or are they simply betting on the strongest horse? None of those answers are satisfying.

Pirouz_2 said...

You are Egyptian. So you should know that the person of Mubarak was not happy to relinquish the power. I believe that had it been upto Mubarak himself the Army would try to suppress the revolt by any means as brutal as necessary. Of course it would have been a huge risk to try to get the army to mass murder the people and if that gamble had been played out and lost, Egypt would have been gone for ever. So from USA's perspective, instead of taking such a risk it made much more sense to try to maintain the structure of Egypt (and its colonial relationship with US) if possible through getting rid of the "puppet" (ie. Mubarak) and replace it with the Generals. But from Mubarak's perspective, handing the power to Tantawi and going to Sharm-al-Sheikh waiting to be arrested and to be put on trial was the WORST THING that could happen. Since he had absolutely nothing to lose from his perspective it would have been much better to get the Army to run over the protesters even at the cost of people's revolution eventually beating the army and forcing him out of the power (as it happened in Iran in 1979). Did that matter? Could he command Tantawi and get him to run over the people with tanks? Who was Tantawi's real boss? USA or Mubarak? Any "puppet" who is brought into power in a colony knows very well that his position depends on his master's will.

lysander1 said...

Interesting thought, Pirouz. You are correct that the US will choose senior officials in governments under it's control. In fact, the previous defense minister, Abu Ghazala, was forced to resign by the US when he was caught smuggling missile parts to build a long range solid fuel rocket. (an entirely sensible course of action clearly in Egypt's national intersts)

But it is not clear to me that the US could have forced Mubarak to, for example, close off Gaza. My guess is that he hoped for US support for Gamal's eventual succession and so closed off Gaza to please them. Had he thought that such action would have been the straw that broke the camel's back and would lead to his ouster, I think he would have refused. The US would not have responded with a coup, but likely with a partial cut off of aid, a media blitz about how Mubarak was not helpful in the fight against terrorism, and highlighting his lack of democratic credentials, etc. Likely Mubarak didn't want to go through all that trouble, but if he thought US orders would cost him his rule, he could have and would have resisted.

As for Tantawi it is not clear to me that the US can order him to fire on civilians, or stop him from doing so. Probably he is fearful of taking such action for fear of the Army turning against him. We shall see in the days to come.

Getting back to Egypt vs Saudi Arabia, the US has economic levers it could use to keep Egypt in line that would be entirely ineffective against SA. Egypt simply could not endure what Iran can, for example, without outside help.

OTOH, an independent Republic of Arabia, would be able to shield Egypt from US economic pressure. We can dream.

Pirouz_2 said...

How much do you know about April 6th movement? Have you heard of any connection between April 6th movement and Otpor?

By the way, in regards to puppets and their masters:
If a leader does not have any substantial social base and support he has to rely on an outside force. He becomes litterally a puppet in that foreign force's hand. If a Saudi "king" does not do what he is told to do, he will be replaced by any of the numerous "princes" who are willing to do whatever the master says and replace the "king".
The best example would be Reza Shah of Iran. The moment that he decided to show the tiniest flicker of personality in the face of his maters (the British) he was replaced by his very own son (Mohammad Reza) in 1941.

Pirouz_2 said...

By the way Lysaner;
Are there enough fresh water in Egypt to in crease its wheat and corn production to self-sufficiency?

Lidia said...

I have just come from checking up Cole's. What a difference! Arnold is not a professor of the ME studies, but he clearly sees the kernel of the matter here. So, his posts are insightful and interesting. Comments, esp. from locals (I am a local of sort too, by the way) are good as well. 

I suppose the only way to see through the sham of USA politics in the ME, the sham heavily promoted by liberals like Ignatius and Cole, is to completely shed illusions about USA being a fair, not mentioning benign actor. Or simply do not have such illusions in the first place.

Arnold Evans said...

I've always believed that if one's father was a stooge dictator, that puts a powerful psychological force into place to maintain that relationship.  If Abdullah or Mubarak was my father, I'd work much harder not to see them as the pathetic puppets I actually see them as.  Which means that after the first generation, there is some degree inertia on the side of perpetuating a colonial relationship.

With Saudi Arabia's weird succession system, I think the US could engineer a crown prince being skipped.  I don't think there is a serious risk of a coup partly because this family is so pliant to Western demands.  If the family was not, the US does have relations with enough of Saudi Arabia's security, military and police establishment that I'm pretty sure it could orchestrate a coup if it wanted.

Another thing is that small-scale gang extortion extracts money from businesses for "protection" and while the gang may claim the protection is from rival gangs, to a large degree the protection is mostly from the extorting gang itself.  Who would try to take over Saudi oilfields if Saudi Arabia did not cooperate with the United States? Iran? Or the US Marines?  The US primarily offers Saudi Arabia protection from the United States.

A democratic government would be much less likely to tolerate the extortion that the fat, effeminate, corrupt Saud family tolerates.  This type of relationship works best when not discussed openly, and objectively it is cowardly and probably irrational that Saudi Arabia submits to US threats to the degree that it does, but a Saudi-style monarch is the perfect vehicle to put into place this cowardice in secret.

The US also offers the Saudis shopping in Paris and New York, skiing in Aspen.  There is a carrot in which stooge dictators are pampered by the West.  There is a feedback loop where self-respecting men wouldn't be moved by such pampering while the Saudi royal family with each passing year moves further from any conception of themselves as self-respecting men.

Lastly 100 years ago, the British Raj in India and, for that matter the open protectorates of the countries that later became the UAE were controlled by integrating British personnel deeply into the decision-making structures of the client governments but I've never read specific details of how it was done.  But it clearly is possible and nobody any more questions that these states were not independent even though on paper they had formal independence.

George Carty said...

I guess that could be another reason why there's so much hostility to Iran's nuclear power programme.

If the Iranians have any sense at all they are almost certainly looking at desalination as a major role for nuclear energy in the Middle East.  Much better than burning precious oil to make fresh water...

lysander1 said...

Hi Pirouz, there is likely some ground water in the desert that can help irrigation. Not sure how much though. 20 or 30 years ago Saudi Arabia embarked on a project to become self sufficient in wheat production using their own ground water. It worked well until recently when they used up all the water. The Egyptian desert likely has more than the Saudi as I think there is more rainfall overtime.

The Mediterranean cost has a lot of potential but for some reason, the vast mine fields from WWII are still there.

Don't know too much about April 6th other than they are the core of the non-Islamist opposition. It seems unlikely that they were part of a color revolution. I doubt anyone in the west wanted to see Mubarak go and even if they did (perhaps to put a fresher face on colonialism) they would not be able to control the genie once out of the bottle. Meaning, what if the protesters wanted more than just a different Mubarak? What if they demand an entirely different system as they are now.

George Carty said...

That was all too common a pattern in Muslim history -- where rulers lacking a domestic powerbase became the mere puppets of their barbarian mercenaries.

The Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba was torn apart by its Berber mercenaries, the Fatimids wound up military helpless and easy prey for the Crusaders, the Abbasids were puppetized by their Turkic mercenaries, and Saladin's Empire was ultimately overthrown by the Mamluks.

Lidia said...

Sure, it is mostly about "Muslim history". I suppose Rome was a Muslim country :)

George Carty said...

Yes, what I'm describing did of course also happen to the late Western Roman Empire, but it happened to multiple Muslim states -- it was really more of a "Middle Eastern" than a "Muslim" problem though.  The pre-Roman Hellenistic empires in the Middle East also had the same problem, which is why Ptolemaic Egypt fell to the Romans, and the Seleucid Empire fell to the Arsacids.  The fundamental cause was the lack of pasture land on which heavy cavalry could be trained.

Another Muslim example I forgot was the first one -- the Abbasids' overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus, made possible by Iranian heavy cavalry.  (The dependence on Turkic mercenaries came after the Abbasids lost the traditional Iranian cavalry country, which was in modern-day Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.)