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King Abdullah and the United States: Ross Douthat, New York Times, Jan. 24, 2015— The Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths.
A Smooth Saudi Succession, But a Rough Road Ahead: Karen Elliott House, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 2015— The death Thursday of Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old, long-ailing King Abdullah is hardly a surprise, nor are the ascensions of his 79-year-old brother Prince Salman as Saudi king and 69-year-old Muqrin, another brother, as crown prince.
How Did Saudi King Abdullah Become a World Hero?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 25, 2014 — You’d think that Mandela or Gandhi had passed away, such were the poetic love letters sent by world leaders and the way the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was announced by media.
The Saudis Believe the West is About to Give in to Iranian Demands. Crashing the Price of Oil is How it Fights Back: Conrad Black, National Post, Dec. 20, 2014 — Responses to the decline in world oil prices have been mystifying — flummoxing, in fact.
New Saudi King and U.S. Face Crucial Point in the Relationship: Helene Cooper, Rod Nordland & Neil Macfarquhar, New York Times, Jan. 23, 2014
Saudi Arabia’s New King Unlikely to Change Direction on Oil Production: Eric Reguly, Globe & Mail, Jan. 23, 2015
Saudi Society Steeped in Racism: Rachel Avraham, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 14, 2015
Gulf States and Qatar Gloss Over Differences, But Split Still Hampers Them: David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Dec. 21, 2014
New York Times, Jan. 24, 2015
The Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths. Along one, various officials and luminaries offered the gestures — half-mast flags, public obsequies — expected when a great statesman enters the hereafter. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a “revered leader.” Tony Blair called him a “modernizer of his country” and a “staunch advocate of interfaith relations,” who was “loved by his people and will be deeply missed.”
Along the other path, anyone outside Western officialdom was free to tell the fuller truth: that Abdullah presided over one of the world’s most wicked nonpariah states, whose domestic policies are almost cartoonishly repressive and whose international influence has been strikingly malign. His dynasty is founded on gangsterish control over a precious natural resource, sustained by an unholy alliance with a most cruel interpretation of Islam and protected by the United States and its allies out of fear of worse alternatives if it fell. Was he a “modernizer”? Well, there were gestures, like giving women the vote in elections that don’t particularly matter. But Abdullah’s most important recent legacy has been counterrevolutionary, in his attempts to rally a kind of axis of authoritarianism against the influence of the Arab Spring. Did he believe in “interfaith relations”? Sure, so long as the other faiths were safely outside Saudi territory, where religious uniformity is enforced by the police and by the lash. Will he be “deeply missed”? Well, not by dissidents, Shiites, non-Muslims, protestors in neighboring countries … and for everyone else, only by comparison with the incompetence or chaos or still greater cruelty that might come next.
But Americans should feel some limited sympathy for the late king, because our relationship with his kingdom has something in common with his own. Like so many despots, Abdullah was to some extent a prisoner of the system he inherited, interested in reform in theory but unable to find the room or take the risks required to see it through. And we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape. Much of America’s post-Cold War policy-making in the Middle East can be understood as a search for a way to slip those cuffs. Three consecutive presidents have tried to reshape the region so that alliances with despotic regimes will no longer seem so inevitable or necessary. And all of them have failed. For Bill Clinton, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was supposed to be the catalyst — in ways never quite elucidated — for reform and progress in the wider Arab world. For George W. Bush, or at least his ambitious advisers, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to create a brilliant alternative to our Saudi alliance — a new special Middle Eastern relationship, but with an oil-producing liberal democracy this time.
For President Obama, there have been multiple ideas for how we might, as an administration official put it during our Libya campaign, “realign our interests and our values.” The president has tried rhetorical outreach to transcend (or at least obscure) our coziness with tyrants; he tried, in Libya and haltingly in Egypt, to put his administration on the side of the Arab Spring; he and Mr. Kerry have made efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; he has sought some kind of realigning deal with that other font of cruelty, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iran project is ongoing, but so far all these efforts either have led (in the case of our Libyan crusade) to outright chaos, or have seen things cycle back to the same old stalemates, the same morally corrosive status quo. Here Obama’s experiences are of a piece with Bush’s, albeit without the same cost in blood and treasure. From Saddam’s Iraq to Mubarak’s Egypt, from Libya to the West Bank, the last two presidents have repeatedly pulled the curtain back, or had it pulled back for them, on potential alternatives to the kind of realpolitik that binds us to the Saudis, and potential aftermaths to the dynasty’s eventual fall. So far, they’ve found nothing good.
Meanwhile, the Saudis themselves are still there. And since much of what’s gone bad now surrounds them — the Islamic State very much in business in the north, Iranian-backed rebels seizing power in Yemen to the south — the American interest in the stability of their kingdom, the continuation of the royal family’s corrupt and wicked rule, is if anything even stronger than before. Whatever judgment King Abdullah finds himself facing now, he is at least free of his kingdom, his region and its nightmarish dilemmas. But not America. A king is dead, but our Saudi nightmare is a long way from being finished.
Karen Elliott House
Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 2015
The death Thursday of Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old, long-ailing King Abdullah is hardly a surprise, nor are the ascensions of his 79-year-old brother Prince Salman as Saudi king and 69-year-old Muqrin, another brother, as crown prince. But the quick choice of Mohammed bin Nayef as the kingdom’s new deputy crown prince is surprising—and is significant domestically and internationally. The 55-year-old Prince Mohammed is the first of the grandsons of Abdul Aziz, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to be named in the line of succession. For nearly 60 years, one after another of Abdul Aziz’s more than three-dozen sons followed each other as king. Muqrin is the youngest surviving son. Watching this band of brothers diminish in number and vigor left many inside the kingdom—and abroad—fearing that one day soon the next-generation princes would quarrel over succession and thereby risk destabilizing oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Now the succession issue appears to be settled. This new leadership trio is likely to continue the kingdom’s foreign policies—specifically its regional competition with Iran, its distrust of the U.S., and its acceptance of low oil prices. At home, the main impact is likely to be further suppression of dissent; the brief spring of more tolerance when King Abdullah began his reign in 2005 is a distant memory.
Mohammed bin Nayef’s appointment surely will be welcomed by the U.S. and other Western nations that have worked closely with him over the past decade as the kingdom’s top officer in charge of curbing terrorism. Educated in the U.S. and fluent in English, Prince Mohammed was long seen as Washington’s preferred candidate among the younger princes who aspired to be king. As a result, some inside Saudi Arabia will see his selection as proof that the U.S., despite growing tensions with Saudi Arabia, still exercises a major say in who leads the kingdom. American support for him is a negative among young Saudi fundamentalists, who oppose Saudi ties with what they see as foreign infidels. Since 2012 Prince Mohammed has been head of the powerful ministry of interior charged with internal security. The ministry has its own paramilitary force to guard key facilities, such as oil installations, and operates a sophisticated surveillance system monitoring Saudi citizens. The ascent of this new-generation ruler could come sooner than expected. The new King Salman is said to suffer from Alzheimer’s, and Crown Prince Muqrin’s credentials to be king continue to be questioned by some in the royal family because his mother was only a Yemeni concubine of Abdul Aziz.
By contrast, the new deputy prime minister has two advantages: First, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is part of the powerful family faction called the Sudairi (a Sudairi woman bore Abdul Aziz seven sons, including King Salman) who have dominated family affairs much of the past half-century. Second, Prince Mohammed has no sons, at least so far, which would make his ascension less threatening to other family factions. What is clear is that the appointment of Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince and his cousin, Mohammed bin Salman, 30, the new king’s son, as defense minister and chief of his father’s royal court, injects clarity and vigor into the future succession of the Al Saud dynasty. The new deputy crown prince is credited by Saudis for keeping terrorism inside the kingdom at bay, but the new defense minister, who has been his father’s chief aide in recent years, is seen as inexperienced and arrogant and thus lacks public support. In the short term, though, the new leadership team faces serious challenges at home and especially abroad.
Even as the Al Saud princes buried their late king and then gathered after the day’s fifth and final prayer required of Muslims to pledge their bay’ah or allegiance to the new king, crown prince and deputy crown prince, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had evicted the Saudi-supported leader of neighboring Yemen. (And at home, in Medina, a Saudi jihadist was shot attempting to storm a building housing security agencies.) The kingdom’s efforts to confront and curb Iranian influence will continue unabated. In particular, the Saudis will continue to accept lower oil prices, a tactic that is helping to bankrupt Iran. Efforts to secure U.S. cooperation against the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, in Syria and Iraq will also continue, as will the kingdom’s disappointment that the Obama administration is doing little to remove Iran’s ally, Bashar Assad, in Syria. Given the late Saudi king’s prolonged poor health, Salman as crown prince was involved in most of the kingdom’s foreign-policy decisions; he is unlikely to change much, unless he decides to be even tougher on Iran…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem Post, Jan. 25, 2015
You’d think that Mandela or Gandhi had passed away, such were the poetic love letters sent by world leaders and the way the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was announced by media. The sixth ruler of what popular Palestinian commentator Jamal Dajani calls “the medieval kingdom,” Abdullah was portrayed as a great world leader. The New York Times lauded him as a “shrewd force who re-shaped Saudi Arabia.” “He will be remembered for his long years of service to the kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths. My thoughts and prayers are with the Saudi royal family and the people of the kingdom,” declared UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He worked for “peace and prosperity,” Cameron said. Former UK leader Tony Blair claimed that the king was a “sound ally, a patient and skillful modernizer.” Flags in England (but not in Scotland) flew at half-mast out of respect, and supposedly due to protocol, for this most wonderful and inspiring of monarchs. US President Barack Obama spoke of a “genuine and warm friendship.” US Secretary of State John Kerry was among the most laudatory, calling Abdullah “a man of wisdom and vision… a revered leader.” The media boasted about Abdullah’s “more than 30 wives” and fawned over the 15,000 members of the royal family, who hold the country’s top diplomatic, military and political posts.
One wonders if Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek saw the great wisdom of Abdullah when she was dragged from a van by Saudi soldiers last year and executed publicly by a sword-wielding man in a white robe, as crowds looked on in pleasure. She was sentenced to death at the age of 17 in 2007 after her employers claimed she was responsible for the death of their child, that she was taking care of as part of her duties as a housemaid. A video posted online shows the gruesome ceremony, the result of the great wisdom Western leaders showed such fawning appreciation for. Did Burmese maid Layla Bint Abdul Mutaleb Bassim share the “modern” vision of the king as she was dragged through the streets and then beheaded in public while being held by four soldiers on January 18 of this year? She plead for her life and declared her innocence. It is tradition in Saudi Arabia’s injustice system that executioners ask those they kill for forgiveness prior to beheading them. But the young Bassim shouted in the street, blindfolded and with her arms tied behind her back: “haram [forbidden], haram, haram, I did not kill, I do not forgive you, this is an injustice.” And then the sword of modernity, of progress, of “warm and genuine friendship,” fell on her neck – three times, as the executioner could not kill her in one stroke. The man who filmed the gruesome legal murder of Bassim was arrested.
And for the dozens of other victims of such executions, many of them young foreign maids, why don’t the flags fly at half-mast in London? In other places in Saudi Arabia there are public canings. Raif Badawi was whipped in public 50 times on January 9 for “insulting religion”; he critiqued Saudi religious clerics on his blog. His 50 lashes were part of a 10-year sentence including 1,000 lashes, to be administered in 50 sessions over 20 weeks. These public whippings were a part of what those like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Abdullah’s “important voice [which] left a lasting impact on his country… a guiding force.” Modi was in an “hour of grief” for the dead king. Modi is right, in a sense. The Saudi king indeed left a “lasting impact”: bloodstained streets and scarred backs. He made a lasting impact on thousands of poor people from families throughout Asia, such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and Burma, whose loved ones who were beheaded after working as semi-enslaved housekeepers in the kingdom. When the Times said Abdullah “re-shaped” Saudi Arabia, it was correct; decapitating people is re-shaping them indeed.
There are an estimated 9 million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. Many of them are young women brought over as “maids.” Thousands flee abusive employers every month to their embassies or safe houses. Usually their passports have been confiscated and they have few options. One Sri Lankan maid told an embassy employee, “After three months of work I asked madam [my employer] for my salary and she started to beat me with iron bars and wooden sticks… she would take a hot iron and burn me or heat up a knife and put it on my body… she threatened to take me to a police station and have me arrested.” In Saudi Arabia, you can be executed for false accusations like this. The great “modernizer” for whom leaders waxed lyrical also did “great service” for gay men. In July 2014 a gay man was sentenced to three years and 450 lashes in Saudi Arabia for the crime of using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. But the homosexual men being lashed for using satanic Twitter are only one part of the modernization pie. Another part is the women like the “girl from Qatif,” who was gang-raped in 2006 by men who filmed the rape. Because they did her the “service” of filming it she wasn’t stoned for “adultery” but rather was mercifully given 200 lashes for “being alone with a man” and sentenced to six months in prison…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
National Post, Dec. 20, 2014
Responses to the decline in world oil prices have been mystifying — flummoxing, in fact. The secretary general of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), Abdullah Al-Badri, said last week that speculation was to blame for the decline by 15% since the last increase in production. He ceremoniously denied that there was any attempt by the cartel to discourage production from shale or oil sands, or to put political pressure on Iran or Russia. In general, the world’s media have bought into the theory that discouragement of production from new sources that would reduce oil imports, especially by the United States, is the real reason for increased production and reduced price. If you doubt that, just ask Russian President Vladimir Putin, who harangued reporters for more than three hours Thursday about the anti-Moscow axis of evil formed by B.O. and its two handmaidens, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Or spare a thought for Scottish leader Alex Salmond, whose campaign to pull Scotland out of the United Kingdom was based on the assurance its share of North Sea oil would guarantee a prosperous and dynamic future. Mr. Salmond lost the vote, which should have Scots thanking their lucky bagpipes around now. This month’s sudden, unforeseen plunge in oil prices would have left a gaping crater in the national budget, before Free Scotland even had a chance to redesign its flag. But Al-Badri has a limited mandate to give the agreed official line of OPEC and has no authority to speak for the motives of the individual member states, and even less standing to mind-read the authorities in those countries and speak for them. OPEC is a slippery cartel at the best of times, many of whose members are virtually, if not actually, at war with each other; the member states don’t necessarily speak truthfully among themselves and anything uttered on behalf of the whole group should be treated with caution. Some member states, including Iraq, Libya and Nigeria, do not really speak for the oil-exporting regions in the country, and there are many other oil-producing countries that either do not export, or even if they do, are not in OPEC, including Canada, Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The explanation of speculation is nonsense, as no sane speculator would encourage the sale of oil at less than its real market value other than to himself, and where the claimed OPEC production is 30 million barrels a day, no unofficial speculation would cause the sort of gyrations in oil prices that have occurred. In general, the decline in China’s rate of economic growth, and conservation and alternate energy-encouragement measures in much of the West and the steady advance of increased domestic production in the United States, explain much of the price reduction. But there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia, as the world’s leading oil exporter, has increased production, whether it is advising Mr. Al-Badri of it or not, and there is no doubt that its motives are chiefly political.
Saudi Arabia has resigned itself to the fact that neither its oft-demonstrated ability to play the periodic U.S. resolve to reduce its dependence on foreign oil like a yo-yo by price-cutting until the impulse of self-discipline passes, nor the agitation of the environmentalists for restrained oil production, will work again. (Shale-sourced oil is relatively environmentally friendly.) President Eisenhower warned over the Suez crisis in 1956 of the dangers of relying on foreign countries for 10% of America’s oil supply; President Nixon did the same in 1973 during the Arab oil embargo, when the percentage of U.S. oil needs provided by imports had risen to 20%. In the late 1980s, President Reagan arranged for the Saudis to over-produce to bring prices back down by half, by selling Saudi Arabia advanced AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and America’s best interceptor jets and sophisticated air-to-air weapons systems. This was part of Reagan’s plan to squeeze the Soviet Union’s foreign exchange sources while spending them to the mat with his Strategic Defense Initiative. The nature of these arrangements really only came to light in the memoirs of some of those involved on the American side about 20 years later.
The principal impact of the reduction in world oil prices from around US$100 a barrel to the mid-50s, and of the cost of gasoline at the pump in the United States from $4.00 to about $2.60, has been severe pressure on the Russian currency (a 50% reduction against the dollar and euro), and the country’s whole financial system, causing severe inflation and drastic interest-rate increases in the usual effort of desperate regimes to maintain a semblance of a believable currency. The Russian ruble has never been a hard currency, even in the piping days of the Romanovs, and that country under Putin is, in economic (and some other) terms, not many rungs above a thugdom of the president and his cronies. But oil speculators operating on their own accounts do not cause the Kremlin to put Holy Mother Russia on the rack of multi-point daily interest rate increases, causing large protests and some public disorder. This is a Saudi move that has ramified very seriously in Russia, far beyond its impact on new oil extraction techniques in the U.S. If a $50 price is reached and maintained, it would negatively alter but not destroy the economics of heavy oil and probably reduce somewhat shale activity, where reserves are more quickly exploited and harder to estimate than traditional subterranean oil fields, even those that are off-shore. But a Saudi move on this scale, with the resulting self-inflicted reduction in their income, makes no sense for the marginal impact it will have on American future production and imports; it is a geopolitical move targeted much closer to home…
Al-Badri’s flimflam, for which there is much precedent in the history of OPEC (essentially, the cartel is a perpetual quarrel among thieves pretending to be price-fixing), naturally seeks to disguise the fact that Saudi Arabia is trying to discourage the use of Iranian and Russian oil revenues to prop up the blood-stained and beleaguered Assad regime in Damascus, to finance Iran’s nuclear military program, and to incite the continuing outrages of Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories against Israel. The exotic community of interest that has suddenly arisen between the historically Jew-baiting Saudis and the Jewish state is because the countries in the area fear, with good reason as far as can be discerned, that the UN Security Council members, plus Germany, may be on the verge of acquiescing in Iran’s arrival as a threshold nuclear military power. The oil-price weapon, in the face of the terminal enfeeblement of the Obama administration, is the last recourse before the Saudis and Turks, whatever their autocues of racist rhetoric, invite Israel to smash the Iranian nuclear program from the air.
It is perfectly indicative of the scramble that ensues when a mighty power like the United States withdraws, fatigued but undefeated, from much of the world, that Saudi Arabia, a joint venture between the nomadic and medieval House of Saud and the Wahhabi establishment that propagates jihadism with Saudi oil revenues, makes common cause with Israel in a way that inadvertently relieves much of the Russian pressure on Ukraine, which was not an objective in Saudi calculations at all. From the Western standpoint, this is a lucky bounce of the political football. But it is Saudi judgment of its self-interest opposite the contending factions in Syria and the hideous prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran that is discommoding the Saudi leaders, not the ineluctable exploitation by the United States of its own oil resources. It need hardly be added that any conventional definition of “speculation” has nothing to do with it; nor that the Western panic at the bonanza of a $500-billion reduction in the West’s energy costs or the obdurate failure of most Western commentators to understand the implications of the oil price reduction, are an unflattering reflection on the financial and political acuity of the pundits of our society.
New Saudi King and U.S. Face Crucial Point in the Relationship: Helene Cooper, Rod Nordland & Neil Macfarquhar, New York Times, Jan. 23, 2014—Almost a decade ago, an Arab diplomat famously likened the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia to a Catholic marriage “where you can have no divorce.”
Saudi Arabia’s New King Unlikely to Change Direction on Oil Production: Eric Reguly, Globe & Mail, Jan. 23, 2015—Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died Thursday night and, the next morning, oil prices rose. A delayed reaction to the launch of the European Central Bank’s €1.1-trillion ($1.52-trillion) quantitative easing assault on deflation might explain the uptick, but markets generally don’t do delayed reactions.
Saudi Society Steeped in Racism: Rachel Avraham, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 14, 2015 —Following the massacre of Shias in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, which resulted in the death of 8 people and several others being wounded during the Shiite Ashura holiday this year, Saudi journalist Hussein Shobokshi wrote in an article in Al Sharq Al Aswat that was translated into English by MEMRI that racism and extremism permeates Saudi society.
Gulf States and Qatar Gloss Over Differences, But Split Still Hampers Them: David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Dec. 21, 2014—Shaking hands and kissing foreheads, the monarchs of the Persian Gulf came together this month to declare that they had resolved an 18-month feud in order to unite against their twin enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.
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