Saudi Arabia is the most dangerous nation in the Middle East. Yes, I know Iran is going to have nuclear weapons soon. But the small group of corrupt, backward racists that runs the Kingdom has the oil weapon, they have it today, and they are using it effectively.
The first use of it was against Israel in 1973, when Saudi-dominated OPEC established an oil embargo against the US and other countries that were supporting Israel. Although the US promised to force Israel back to the 1967 boundaries if the Arabs would even pretend to make some kind of peace agreement, as usual the Arabs shot themselves in the foot with their intransigence, and the weapon did not achieve the desired result.
One of the nice things about the oil weapon is that you can use it for defense or conquest without sending your own sons to die in war. So, for example, when former American client Saddam Hussein threatened Saudi Arabia in 1991, the United States suppressed Saddam with only token participation by Saudi armed forces.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter, and the price of oil has lately been tending toward astronomical values, near $100/bbl. (the median world price since 1970 is about $27 in 2006 dollars and was as low as $14 in 1998). The excess cash is used for a lot of things, like buying SUVs that women are not allowed to drive and promoting a very aggressive form of Sunni Islam around the world.
But it’s also used to buy influence, particularly in the US. And the Saudis have been spectacularly successful at this. Daniel Pipes explains one of the ways this happens:
A hint of the problem comes from none other than Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The Washinton Post reports that he boasted of his success at cultivating powerful Americans: “If the reputation . . . builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office”… [my emphasis]
Ex-Washington hands paid handsomely by the kingdom include such figures as Spiro T. Agnew, Jimmy Carter, Clark Clifford, John B. Connally and William E. Simon. A Washington Post account lists other former officials, including George H.W. Bush, who have found the Saudi connection “lucrative.” It also quotes a Saudi source saying that the Saudis have contributed to every presidential library in recent decades.
Many ex-U.S. ambassadors to Riyadh have received substantial sums of money since John C. West set the gold standard by funding his personal foundation with a $500,000 donation from a single Saudi prince, plus more from other Saudis, soon after he left the kingdom in 1981. — Pipes, “What Riyadh buys [in Washington]“
There’s no reason to think that they do not buy similar influence in other nations. So even though Saudi Arabia is not a massive military power, they are expert at using leverage to get what they want. This is the invisible application of the oil weapon, day in and day out.
So the important question is: what do they want?
One thing they want is dominance of the region and leadership of the Muslim world. And in this they have one big rival, the non-Arab, Shiite nation of Iran (the US has already taken care of Saddam for them). They are very concerned about the possibility of an Iranian-dominated Iraq, and have opposed US withdrawal of troops for that reason. There is also evidence that they are supporting Sunni insurgents there, who are fighting both the Shiites and the US.
One thread of the struggle with Iran is taking place in the Palestinian arena, where the Saudis are trying to wean Hamas away from Iran, its current patron (Hamas, a fundamentalist Sunni Arab group is ideologically much closer to the Wahhabist Saudis than the Iranians).
The Saudi strategy is to try to bring about a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, and create a unitary Palestinian Authority which they — and not Iran and the US, respectively — will control.
I’ve argued before that the US policy of trying to solve the conflict by forcing a settlement between Israel and the present Fatah-dominated PA cannot be succesful for several reasons: 1) it’s impossible to ignore the 40% of Palestinians who live in Gaza, 2) it’s impossible to ignore Hamas, 3) the Palestinian people have been so well ‘educated’ that they will not accept any solution that leaves Israel a Jewish state, and 4) the Fatah elite have zero popular support and cannot control their own terrorist factions. Nevertheless, the US talks as though such an agreement can be reached by pressuring Israel, and that it will bring about a peaceful two-state solution.
I suggest that the only way to understand this policy is to see that it is not intended to produce a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel (which neither Fatah nor Hamas wants anyway). Rather, the goal is to appease Saudi Arabia by getting Israel out of the territories — and thus finally fulfilling Kissinger’s 1974 promise — and by creating a Palestinian entity that will incorporate or be dominated by Hamas, and that will be a Saudi satellite.
There are three major sources of support for the various insurgencies in Iraq: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria.
- We are giving the Saudis the ‘solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that they want;
- We are giving the Iranians a pass on nuclear weapons (the NIE);
- With Syria we struck out. But that’s another story.
It looks like this policy is at least partly working. The level of violence in Iraq is down. But remember that the Saudis do not want us completely out of Iraq as long as there is a possibility of a Shiite/Iranian takeover.
As you watch the situation develop, keep this in mind: the Saudis almost always get what they want.
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