In yesterday’s post, I drew attention to the fact that we have a country with legit ‘concentration camps’ holding a million-plus individuals in them, with hardly a peep from the world. Last night, I happened to be cruising Youtube and saw that President Trump and VP Pence, at a UN thing on religious freedom, actually mentioned China’s camps. This pleased me. There was one thing that did not please me, though, and that was that there was no mention of Saudi Arabia.
I do not mean their conduct in Yemen. I mean their brutal suppression of non-Muslims. In fact, one could say that in some sense, SA is not poised to incarcerate or slaughter non-Muslims, because they have already put their feet on the necks of non-Muslims so firmly, that none dare lift their head again. Having watched my share of videos of people being beheaded or executed in SA, the metaphor seems apt. Moreover, SA appears to be a nexus of human trafficking, with the dismal distinction of being a country where the state apparatus itself is facilitating it.
Notwithstanding the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, it would appear that MAYBE one of the goals of the newest strongman in SA is to turn the corner on such behavior, but I have my doubts. Certainly, ‘extremism’ needs to be curtailed in SA, as history has already shown that the Saudi brand of ‘extremism’ can have a severe impact on the region and the world: it was Wahhabi-style ‘extremists’ that formed the bulk of the 9-11 attack, which in turn led to a massive destabilization of the entire region after the American response–not that ‘stabilization’ is intrinsically good, when the stabilizers are the likes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, but my point is that it only takes 20 ‘extremists’ to set part of the world on fire, and such people have a home in Saudi Arabia. If not leadership positions.
Probably the worst thing for the region and the world was the discovery of oil there. These areas would be devoid of power and influence if they remained mere desert wildernesses. The discovery of oil has made otherwise strategically useless parts of the world critical. OPEC, et. al, has been able to hold the world hostage, meanwhile enriching a lot of ‘bad actors’ and financing the rise of Islam, which probably would have been well on its way into a decline without being propped up by oil profits.
This brings me to the question of America’s response to this situation.
Unlike with China, which I asserted in yesterday’s post would likely brush aside economic measures rather than change their conduct, my impression is that the Saudi’s know which side their bread is buttered. This MIGHT be why bin Salman is turning the screws on the extremists. At about the same time he came to power, Trump was solidifying America’s independence from Middle East oil. Saudi Arabia needs the US more than the US needs Saudi Arabia.
My preference would be to walk away from the Middle East altogether, and just let them all fight it out. We can’t solve all the world’s problems–we have to pick our battles. It is extraordinarily difficult to find ‘good actors’ there: even the ‘good actors’ are ‘bad actors.’ Unfortunately, behind the ‘bad actors’ usually stand even worse actors. Iran is engaged in a proxy war with SA in Yemen, and behind Iran stands both Russian and China–and did I mention that China is locking up millions of people into camps? Not cool.
Let’s be absolutely clear, though. If Saudi Arabia goes down, the vacuum will be filled by Iranians and their malevolent friends. So, unless you’re prepared to ‘walk away’ (as I discuss below), you’re going to have to choose between which ‘bad actor’ to support.
Per my advice in the last post, our best long term strategy is to become independent of it all, but I do think that in this case our independence gives us leverage that we would not otherwise have, and we should apply it.
In other words, we should use the fact that SA is dependent on us for its income in order to curtail its behavior. We should continue to do business with them, but that business should come with strings attached. Probably, you can’t make the strings too explicit, or that will drive them into a more belligerent state, but they should be as direct as possible while allowing them to ‘save face.’
It is one thing to let a country manage itself and have everyone else mind their own business, its another to actually give them your money. Its the fact that people have been giving them money for a century that is part of the problem!
So, Trump was right to allow the sales of US weapons in Saudi Arabia when it came up. At the time, he stated the obvious: if the US didn’t sell the arms to Saudi Arabia, it was still going to get the arms, only Russia and/or China would be the seller, not the US. Would we rather it be the United States leveraging Saudi Arabia’s dependence or would we prefer that Russia and/or China leveraging that dependence? Given those two options, in my mind it is a no-brainer.
However, that assumes that there is some leveraging being done. And that is my problem. That is my challenge to President Trump: calling out oppressive regimes is awesome… but let’s add a few more to the list. (Turkey probably needs to be added to that list, too.) If their behavior does not change, then I submit to you, Mr. President, one of your negotiation principles: always be ready to walk away from the table.
Yesterday’s post conclude with an aside for the individual. More of the same, here. The situation is intensely complex in the Middle East and there is no way to navigate it without getting some of the stench on you. If you want to be engaged effectively there at all–and I mean effectively, not just in ‘feel good’ measures–you’re going to have to choose the better of bad options. Individually, however, we can do certain things, and these ultimately depend on YOU becoming independent. If you don’t want to start driving a horse and buggy, you can at least take the position that the United States should be driving with American-made gas. But you can minimize your exposure to ‘bad actors’ in general, and potentially (if we all do it) curtail their behavior via economic pressures, by radically overhauling your lifestyle. Buy local. Live local. Disentangle YOURSELF from the moral complexities of the world.
Mr. President, Saudi Arabia is not worth our people dying for. If the proxy war with Iran escalates, as far as I’m concerned, let Russia and China just have it. Per the saying “talk softly and carry a big stick,” let me submit that if the proxy war escalates, our response should be to make our stick EVEN bigger and make it clear that we will BEAT THEM SENSELESS with it if they get crazy. This only works if we are energy independent, so I encourage you to continue that. The region is so filled with ‘bad actors’ its already a veritable write-off, so lets not send my sons to war for a patch of sand possessed by rich nutjobs.
Meanwhile, I don’t think this would represent the kind of abandonment of the situation that it sounds like at first blush. The people who ARE dependent on Middle East oil… the Europeans… will suddenly have to take responsibility for their own security, instead of allowing the United States to shoulder the burden as they have for almost a century. Let the Europeans protect their own interests while striving to disentangle our interests from the region as much as possible. And if the Europeans don’t step up? Oh, I think a little realpolitick will be good for them, and they will.