Tuesday, December 23, 2003

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The bargaining strength of weak states, part II

While we're on the subject of coping with the weak leaders of key states, the latest issue of Foreign Affairs has an analysis by Michael Doran on the political struggle taking place within Saudi Arabia. The key part:

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. Many agree that the Saudi political system must somehow evolve, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.

The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia's two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.

One must give the Saudis credit -- they make Pakistani politics look positively transparent.

posted by Dan on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM


“Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore.”

Is this the only nation on this planet named after its ruling family? Can you imagine a " Land of Jones?” This should tell you all you need to know about the significance of the Saud family. I see absolutely no way that Saudi Arabia can reverse its rapid economic decline while still embracing its current social policies. How can you be economically viable when you disenfranchise the women living within your borders? They still can’t even drive their own automobiles! This sole factor virtually guarantees an inferior economy.

Thankfully, we invaded Iraq and sent a clear message to the Islamic militants to think twice before confronting our military might. This may persuade those Saud family members infatuated with Wahhabism to give a higher priority to their own self preservation. My guess is that they are similar to those Manhattan “elites” Tom Wolfe so brilliant analyzed in his “Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.” In other words, they are pretend radicals who will cease with their immature behavior once the bullets start flying around their heads.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

Yeah, so who's propping up this regime, smart guy? I'll give you 3 guesses. I'll also lay a bet that if America didn't endorse, support and arm the Sauds, they'd have been thrown into the dustbin by the Arabs of that country many years ago.

posted by: Pal. on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

Er ... "Saud" means "south" -- Saudi Arabia is the southern Arab area (vs Iraq/Arab Persia, for instance).

Anyway ... got here from Lieter claiming there is no hope for the blogsphere, to find an important discussion on the balkanization of Saudi Arabia.

posted by: Steve Marsh on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

That doesn't seem right, considering that the Ibn
Saud clan is from the Nejd (Imagine the Sahara in
the midwest to a geographic conparison to the US)
Which brings me to a not so unrelated point. You
look up 'ungrateful bastards,' and you see their
picture. Sure, they're upset over Israel, probably
because their upset that Adolph didn't finish the
job. but that's a minor point. Most of US Defense
policy has been to safeguard the Saudi's (because
of their oil) from the Soviet. Imagine what Stalin or Brezhnev would have done to those minarets in Medina & Mecca; to the Wahhab's in general. How did they reward us for this; they unleashed the '73 oil shock, that shattered the world economy in an infinite number of ways. Than after Jimmy let the Shah down, we supported them against their other blood enemies; the Iranian shiah, not to mention being their partner in the anti-Soviet crusade in Afghanistan. Of course theyt convince themselves that it was all their doing. This is how Osama convinces himself he should lead the anti-Iraq resistance (Hell, we should have let him do it, on second thought) So then they are upset because we prevented Saddam from turning Saudi into the 20-25th provinces of the Baathist Peoples republic of Iraq) You know, come to think
think of it

posted by: narciso on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

Musharraf's position is not analogous to that of Abdullah or any other Saudi. Musharraf heads a country so large and so situated geographically that we have to deal with him as we have. By contrast our relations with the House of Saud rest on the reality that the American economy is extremely vulnerable to a sudden surge in oil prices, something Saudi oil policy has prevented in the past and a different policy could produce in the future.

A change in American policy to make the economy of the United States less vulnerable to surges in oil prices could reduce our interest in the future direction of Saudi politics. The point is that we have choices where Saudi Arabia is concerned that we do not have with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is such a problem for us now because we have failed to avail ourselves of the choices we have, and have instead chosen the path of least political resistance over many years and during administrations representing both political parties.

posted by: Zathras on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

Our interests here are simple, but furthering them is not.

Our first priority is to minimize disruptions in Saudi oil production, allowing for matters such as keeping the oil income from being used to finance 9/11 scale attacks on us. Right now we're doing OK here, including setting up a Shiite Arab client nearby. The Saudi oil producing areas have a thoroughly repressed Shiite Arab majority.

I.e., when the Saud clan goes, we'll have a handy replacement ready for the parts of the by-then former Saudi Arabia important to us.

Our second priority is to minimize use of the other parts of the by-then former Saudi Arabia from being used as secure terrorist bases. The millions of gruesome deaths from mutual genocide by the various Wahabbi factions, plus exposure/thirst/starvation/disease, etc., following loss of that oil income (and departure of all the foreigners who do the work necessary to avoid a sudden population drop to that supportable by subsidence agriculture in the world's worst desert) will certainly be a major short-term distraction here. My crystal ball says of the post catastrophe long-term, "Answer Hazy - Ask Again Later."

Now would be a real good time for Saudis to take up long-term residence someplace else.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

5{aud" means "south" -- Saudi Arabia is the southern Arab area (vs Iraq/Arab Persia, for instance).”

You are incorrect. The ruling family’s name is Saud---and the country is indeed named after them:


posted by: David Thomson on 12.23.03 at 12:30 PM [permalink]

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