Thursday, December 11, 2003

Is there a war going on more important to us than Iraq which we haven't even noticed? I don't mean North Korea.

The things I discussed here are still bothering me. I googled the web to see who would know what was happening. Maybe none of these are anything to worry about, maybe Al Qaeda has antagonized everyone with their bombings in Saudi Arabia, and driven them into the Monarchy's arms. In Iraq though, it seems that even if people don't like bombs they still make the powers that be look bad. In the name of preparing for the worst we have to consider that Al Qaeda knows what they're doing. Sometimes if the enemy is trying very hard to do something that doesn't seem to make sense you worry about it anyway.

Now, whether it's a third generation prince who's going to come along and reform the royal family, reorient its foreign policy, I can't tell you. Or will it be revolution? I mean that's just unknowable right now.

ELEANOR HALL: Either way, it would be a seismic event for the Middle East and indeed for the US, wouldn't it, if the Saudi royal family was to collapse?

ROBERT BAER: It would. You know, I take the worst case possibility and that is that Saudi Arabia takes its oil off the market, either just closes off the taps or sabotages its own facilities. And we're talking, you know, upwards of 11 million barrels a day, which would cause a recession, you know, a deep recession.

ELEANOR HALL: But is it really likely that the Saudis would sabotage their own oil?

ROBERT BAER: Well who would have thought that 15 Saudis would have got onto airplanes and run into US buildings?

ELEANOR HALL: So you're saying it's terrorists inside Saudi Arabia who could actually attack the Saudi oil industry?

ROBERT BAER: They could. I mean, the attitude of a lot of Saudis, they're disenfranchised politically and economically, they're saying, listen, we don't get anything out of the oil, we sell it underpriced to the West, it's only caused corruption and an impure society. If we were to take this oil off the market or a lot of it, we could back to living like the Bedouins, under a pure Islamic utopian society. And if you took all of Saudi Arabia's capacity off for two years, again this is the worst case scenario, you're going to have a serious economic shot, a shock as bad as we saw in 1973.

A good sign. A real worst case scenario would include Saudi involvement in building a nuclear bomb for Al Qaeda, so maybe he's just crazy.

Is there an easy answer? Were you thinking this?

Opposition groups in Saudi - and many of the émigré organisations which operate abroad - are not pursuing a vision of Western democracy, but an even more rigid interpretation of Sunni Sharia and the ousting of those sections of the royal family which they regard as having been corrupted by association with the West. These are not the sort of people with whom Washington - or Western human rights campaigners - will be comfortable doing business.

The real danger is that the latest proposals will be interpreted as yet more evidence that the dynasty founded by Ibn Saud is showing signs of weakness. Rather than strengthening the present royal government, local elections may well prove to be the beginning of the end.

The fundamental dilemma facing the West is the risk that reform of the Saudi political system may eventually produce a much more hardline, anti-Western regime. For many US policy-makers, the ongoing legacy of militant political Islam in Iran - and more recently the rise of Shi'a militancy in Iraq - is causing concern that Saudi Arabia may be on the brink of its own Islamic revolution.

Here's a more recent (Novermber 12) conservative view from the OpinionJournal.

"Is it a revolt?" Louis XVI asked in 1789. "No, sire, it is a revolution," answered one of his courtiers. In Saudi Arabia the ruling family has long been presiding over a denial of reality to match that of the Bourbon monarchy. The bombing this weekend in Riyadh, which killed 17 people and wounded over 100, suggests that the thousands of princes who control the wealth of that country have trouble in store.

This piece from the Asia Times is only slightly more optimistic. If you read the whole thing you'll find nobody there loves us too much.

Prince Abdullah keeps fighting hard for the political survival of the discredited Saud dynasty - which is now regarded as practically a pariah in Washington. His dearest wish would be to witness an American departure from the peninsula, slowly but surely. A few sound minds in Washington may have considered that such a departure would instantly melt away any appeal of bin Laden's Islamic revolution. There is intense speculation in Middle East diplomatic circles that the prince will now try to convince the Americans to fold their bases in exchange for a prominent Saudi role as the guardian of a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel, and as an economic powerhouse benefiting all of the Arab world.

This dream scenario would mean the triumph of Arab nationalism - a la Abdullah - a sort of embryonic democracy that could have its public expression in what Qatar's Al Jazeera television network embodies today. European diplomatic sources believe this semi-democratic Arab world certainly would not be allied to the US - it would rather strike a closer relationship with Japan and Korea, and with the enlarged European Union.

I've found articles about reform in Saudi Arabia. I haven't found one that examines the danger of revolution and concludes it probably won't happen.

Here's some historical perspective from the Asia Times.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are edging closer to political instability and even cataclysmic change. In the case of Iran, the United States prefers a change of regime, but not for Saudi Arabia. However, regime change might be the eventual outcome in both countries for reasons that are essentially similar: the enemies of regimes are inside the borders. But there are also certain important aspects of dissimilarity in both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic revolution occurred in Iran in 1979 as a powerful protest against a highly corrupt and equally ruthless regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlevi. At the risk of oversimplification, it should be stated that the vanguards of that revolution at the very outset made two significant mistakes whose ramifications might bring about its end.

One more link, older than the rest.

Why have Saudi and other Gulf charities sent money to support Islamic fundamentalist schools that are encouraging jihad? And are the Saudis dragging their feet when it comes to assisting U.S. law enforcement agencies that are tracking down terrorists? Whose side are the Saudis on? "The Saudi Time Bomb," airing on PBS Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. EST, explores the fragile alliance with this ultra conservative fundamentalist kingdom upon which the U.S. depends for fifteen percent of the country’s oil needs. The program is a "Frontline" co-production with the New York Times.

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