The House of Saud
This month's Atlantic Monthly is full of stellar articles and well worth picking up. I'm going to blog about at least a couple of those stories today, and perhaps a couple more tomorrow.
The cover story, already mentioned briefly by Matthew Yglesias, is an investigation into the House of Saud, its influence in American politics, and the likeliness of a not-so-far-off collapse.
The early pages of the text (culled from author Robert Baer's upcoming "Sleeping With the Devil") focus on the vulnerability of the Saudi oil industry and thus the world which relies on it:
The most vulnerable point and the most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system is the Abqaiq complex... For the first two months after a moderate to severe attack on Abqaiq, production there would slow from an average of 6.8 million barrels a day to one million barrels, a loss equivalent to one third of America's daily consumption of crude oil.
Hawkish environmentalists like myself (am I the only one?) have been noting for some time how thoroughly undermined our national security is by our reliance on Saudi oil. There are direct vulnerabilities, as shown by this article, but there are obviously indirect ones as well. Much, if not all, of our continued support for the corrupt Saudi regime clearly stems from our oil interests, and it is that support which has really tipped the scales of public opinion against us (there can be no overestimating the Palestinian issue, but I think the average Saudi has been pushed over the edge by the situation in his own country). Why should the Iraqi people be so happy to see us, when all they have to do is look across the border to see what kinds of governments America supports?
Per capita income in Saudi Arabia fell from $28,600 in 1981 to $6,800 in 2001. The country's birth rate has soared, becoming one of the highest in the world. Its police force is corrupt, and the rule of law is a sham. Saudi Arabia almost certainly leads the world in public beheadings, the venue for which is often a Riyadh plaza popularly known as Chop-Chop Square
None of this is new information, but it raises some timely questions. Why oh why would we go after Syria or Iran but let Saudi Arabia continue as is? This is a country not officially lost to fundamentalists, but well on its way. I think the Saudi question truly undermines the so-called "grand strategy" of the neocons.
There's also one piece of information in the story which I found truly shocking, perhaps simply because I've been equally blind to the Saudi infestation of our country:
Just to make sure that no one upsets the workings of this system, perhaps by meddling in internal Saudi affairs, Saudi Arabia now keeps possibly as much as a trillion dollars on deposit in U.S. banks - an agreement worked out in the early eighties by the Reagan Administration, in an effort to get the Saudis to offset U.S. government budget deficits. The Saudis hold anotehr trillion dollars or so in the U.S. stock market. This gives them a remarkable degree of leverage in Washington. If they were suddenly to withdraw all their holdings in this country, the effect, though perhaps not as catastrophic as having a major source of oil shut down, would still be devastating.
What comes to my mind is the fuss raised over possible Chinese infiltration of our government and the Democratic party because of fund-raising and satellite scandals. Can there be any doubt now that the Saudi infiltration is more deep, more entrenched, and more dangerous? This is a country largely responsible for the financing and human personnel of anti-American terrorism. It is also responsible for the financial well-being of a disturbing number of former (and now current) state and defense officials. On top of that, it's cash and oil have become foundational parts of our economy. And this article makes it rather clear that those in the upper echelons of the Republican party (with a few 'entrepeneurial' Democrats thrown in) have allowed this with willful ignorance.
We need to find a way out of this situation. My appeals to obvious solutions:
1) Reduced reliance on gas/oil - I don't care if the environmentalists are wrong about global warming, etc. (I don't think they are), our national security is severely undermined by reliance on corrupt oil regimes.
2) Withdrawal of active support for Saudi regime, including vocal condemnation of the corruption of the Saudi regime and their support for terrorism. No more hypocritical rants against Syria or Iran without including Saudi Arabia in the fold (and toning down all such rants... they serve no purpose but to antagonize potential enemies whom we are not prepared to fight).
3) Renewed engagement in Israel/Palestine. Stop the settlements. If we're going to lose the Saudi's (and we will), we need to work towards ending the first source of anti-Americanism in the region. Siding with Israel is one thing, disengagement another. The latter is unacceptable and will only continue to undermine everything else we do in the region.
UPDATE: Roger Bigod's comment suggested Daniel Yergin's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, which I note won the Pulitzer in 1992. It's officially on my reading list.