Doran Doran

Hatchet jobs are a tool of all newspapers, but a favorite particularly of the London-based Saudi press. The latest victim is Michael Scott Doran, who may soon be joining the National Security Council as senior Middle East policy-maker to replace Elliott Abrams, who will become deputy national security adviser. (Disclosure: Doran is a friend and someone I will be among the first to congratulate if he is indeed appointed.)

In this case, Jihad al-Khazen of Al-Hayat has taken a knife to Doran, accusing him (in an abysmally translated English version of an Arabic article) of being "not only a supporter of the Israeli Likud party and known for his anti-Arab and anti-Islamic opinion, but also a dedicated member of the opposed side. All his writings reflect a hostile feeling, especially against Saudi Arabia."

We even learn, rather titillatingly, that "his articles, conferences and interviews blend venom and lubricant."

Two things bother the Saudis in Doran: first that he wrote an influential article in the January-February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs where he argued that the Saudi royal family was divided between Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Nayef. As Doran put it:

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.

This hit the Saudis in a particularly sensitive spot, because it demolished the pretense of unity in the royal family (something essential if the regime is to survive against its many foes) and suggested that senior princes were bickering over the succession to King Fahd, who was effectively reduced to the state of a cucumber after suffering a stroke a decade ago. That a family which could once depose a king for incompetence (King Saud) cannot do so another who is utterly incapable of leading his kingdom, suggests there is some truth to Doran's thesis. After all, if Crown Prince Abdullah has been unable to succeed his half-brother, that's because his other half-brothers, including Nayef, have not endorsed it.

Khazen's rebuttal of this argument is so constrained by the official Saudi line that Fahd is in fine form as to be downright hilarious: "Based on my personal knowledge, I can say that the Crown Prince only follows the orders of the King. In turn, the Minister of Defense executes orders received from the Crown Prince. The traditional and well-known hierarchy prevents the establishment of any power centers, as those mentioned by Doran."

A second thing that bothers the Saudis is that Doran, despite his purported hatred of Arabs, has shown particular interest in and sympathy for the fate of the kingdom's Shiites. Saudi Shiites are second-class citizens at home, and Doran has written about this in the past. Indeed, Khazen alludes to this irritating hobby of Doran's in his piece, but apparently doesn't quite know what to do with it.

Doran was set upon last year by another commentator plying the waters of the London-based Saudi press: In a pair of articles in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian, attacked Doran personally for his Saudi article, albeit less ham-fistedly than Khazen. Nonetheless, like Khazen's screed, it had all the trappings of a contract hit, where the arguments were thin and the insinuations thick.

Doran has become a favorite target of many groups. He was at the center of a furor at Princeton University, where he teaches, because some professors thought he leaned too much to the right. The Saudis can't stand him because he won't toe the official line they have tried so hard to peddle of a kingdom united in its animosity toward Islamist terrorism. Post-colonial academics and those who still weep at the altar of the late Edward Said (particularly his nephew, Usama, whom Doran beat out of a job) dislike Doran because he is close to the conservative Princeton Middle East historian Bernard Lewis and represents what they hate most about the Bush administration.

You know the value of a person by the quality of his enemies, so Doran should be a happy man today.

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  • ||

    "his articles, conferences and interviews blend venom and lubricant."

    Someone alert Andrew Sullivan.

  • ||

    Guarde: best comment I've seen today. But will there be enough TOR-CHAR to suit him?

  • ||

    Heterosexuals use lubricant too, you know. At least the ones in those KY commercials do. For when it's the 'right' time.

    I'll never understand why when the topic turns to sex everyone starts staring at the gay guy.

    This is incredibly off-topic

  • John Burgess||

    My office--Public Diplomacy, at the US Embassy in Riyadh--invited Doran to come to the KSA on a speaking tour in 2003. Doran was well received on all levels. Not all agreed with his analyses of what was going on in the Middle East, nor his views on Iraq, but he was neither shouted down nor ignored.

    I don't think the Al Hayat piece was a reflection of "Saudi" thinking (whatever that may be) so much as the thinking of a particular Saudi: Al-Khazen.

    But even I differ with him in his analysis of the power politics within the Al-Saud. I think he's only 2/3 right about the struggle for superiority. Close, but no cigar.

  • ||

    My question is: What will Doran's appointment mean for the assasination of Hariri? And would he hold hands with the Saudi Crown Prince like his soon to be boss, give the 'opportunity'.

  • ||

    I am pretty certain that Jihad al-Khazen is not Saudi but rather Lebanese. This doesn't necessarily mean that the hatchet-job on Doran was an indication of Saudi thinking, but the royal family does have a history of trying to and actually influencing US appointments to the Saudi file--and not all of them are as ham-fisted as shouting down a man while he's giving a public address, though I do know of one case where the Saudis literally tried to lock one US official out of a meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah. But more to the point, John Burgess says that Doran doesn't have the power struggle within the royal family right. If Mr. Burgess really knows what the inside looks like then there are a number of people curious to know what he knows--including, apparently, many of the people he ostensibly has to answer to. Or, why is oil $52 a barrel? Why, as the Washington Post reports, are most martyrs in Iraq Saudis? And why was the kingdom given the Lebanon portfolio? None of this seems to suggest we are using to our advantage what Mr. Burgess, as a US official, hints that he knows.

  • ||

    Isn't everyone, including Doran, just kind of guessing about the power struggles in the royal family? I mean, really?

    psst, Lee: John Burgess is retired. You're right, though, Khazen is a Lebanese Christian.

  • ||

    As for this question: "And why was the kingdom given the Lebanon portfolio?"

    I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but Prince Talal does own a good chunk of Lebanon and the Lebanese media (e.g. LBC).

  • ||

    (that would be Prince Walid bin Talal. His mother is Lebanese.)

  • ||

    "Or, why is oil $52 a barrel? "

    Yeah, you have the Saudis to thank for that. Or you will be paying a hell of a lot more than that if it was left to supply and demand only.

  • ||

    Whether Jihad Khazen is Lebanese or not is quite irrelevant; he is echoing what the owner of Al-Hayat, Prince Khalid ben Sultan, and the Saudi leadership want to hear. Since Prince Nayef also happened to publicly disagree with Doran's Foreign Affairs piece, I think it safe to say that Khazen's criticism was fairly close to official Saudi thinking on the matter.

  • ||

    Yeah, you have the Saudis to thank for that. Or you will be paying a hell of a lot more than that if it was left to supply and demand only.

    Really? How so? Given that an oil market based purely on the laws of supply and demand would result in oil producers pumping at full capacity as long as they can turn a profit on each barrel sold, and given that the cost of production is somewhere around $5/barrel for much of the Persian Gulf region, exactly how are the Saudis, who have a fair amount of reserve production capacity on hand, keeping oil prices down in the face of these laws? Is there some Saudi scheme to fund nuclear energy and hybrid cars that I don't know about?

  • ||

    Given that an oil market based purely on the laws of supply and demand would result in oil producers pumping at full capacity

    I got news for you. Producers are pumping almost at full capacity, especially OPEC producers. I know the Saudis are.


    Is there some Saudi scheme to fund nuclear energy and hybrid cars that I don't know about?

    No, there is this fact the Saudis pump more oil whenever they are asked to by the US government even if that results in lower prices and the net income stays the same.

    Oil prices now aren't higher when they are adjusted for inflation despite the fact that reserves are decreasing and new exploration in the gulf region has not lead to major discoveries.
    Take a look at historical prices for oil and other essential comodities. You will notice that the price of oil has not increased as much as other comodities despite the soaring demand.

    Now to speculation. The prices were at rock bottom six years ago so that the Russia (an oil producer) get screwed. Now the prices are much higher so that China (an oil consumer) get screwed.

  • ||

    I got news for you. Producers are pumping almost at full capacity, especially OPEC producers. I know the Saudis are.

    A search for the phrases "Saudi Arabia" and "reserve capacity" suggests otherwise. Estimates range from 1-2 million barrels/day.

    No, there is this fact the Saudis pump more oil whenever they are asked to by the US government even if that results in lower prices and the net income stays the same.

    It results in lower prices because the Saudis were keeping production at artificially low levels in order to inflate profits - the kind of action you get from a monopoly (or a near-monopoly, as in OPEC's case) than in a market driven purely by the laws of supply and demand.

    Now to speculation. The prices were at rock bottom six years ago so that the Russia (an oil producer) get screwed. Now the prices are much higher so that China (an oil consumer) get screwed.

    The first part makes sense, given Russia's higher cost of production. As for the second part, I think a recognition of China's insatiable demand might play a role, but I think the larger factor is a feeling among the Gulf states that they're not as dependent on the US as they were before, now that one neighborhood bully's been taken out.

  • ||

    the kind of action you get from a monopoly (or a near-monopoly, as in OPEC's case)

    OPEC's market share of oil production is less than 50%. That is one hell of a monopoly.

    now that one neighborhood bully's been taken out.

    one bully was replaced by a bigger one.

  • ||

    OPEC's market share of oil production is less than 50%. That is one hell of a monopoly.

    But their share of the world's proven oil reserves is notably higher. And regardless, even a market share of 50% with regards to sales of a finite resource amounts to major influence over prices.

    one bully was replaced by a bigger one.

    You can make that case if you'd like. But I doubt that the leaders of the various Gulf states spend much time worrying about an American attack out of the blue.

  • gaius marius||

    (Disclosure: Doran is a friend and someone I will be among the first to congratulate if he is indeed appointed.)

    i read exactly that far before realizing that no one need read farther -- especially considering the author.

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