Foreign Policy

Saudi Rulers Offer Cash for Caliphs

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Our friends in Saudi Arabia are taking a break from killing protesters in Bahrain to spread some lucre-love around their own country (which is itself a bit unrestful, as is likely to happen from time to time in a grotesque autoracy):

Saudi Arabia's king promised a multibillion dollar package of reforms, raises, cash, loans and apartments on Friday in what appeared to be the Arab world's most expensive attempt to appease residents inspired by the unrest that has swept two leaders from power.

He also announced 60,000 new jobs in the security forces — a move that would employ huge numbers of otherwise jobless young men, while bolstering his kingdom's ability to snuff out protests.

The ailing 86-year-old King Abdullah, his soft voice trembling, rarely looked up from his notes in the speech broadcast live on Saudi television….

The sweeteners include an additional two months' wages for all government workers, and two extra pension payments for university students. He raised the monthly minimum wage to $800 and a monthly pension of around $260 to the country's unemployed. The king set aside around $70 billion to build 500,000 low-income apartments. He promised millions more capital for the government's housing loan fund and raising the maximum loan for homes to around $130,000.

The important thing: It's still good to be the king, though probably less good to be the next king, who will almost certainly given Abdullah's advanced age and will immediately be challenged by his own people and other countries.

Though protests in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia have been tiny and were swiftly quelled, the monarchy apparently fears they could escalate as have others around the Arab world — particularly in the neighboring island of Bahrain, where Saudi troops lead a 1,500-strong Gulf military force against Shiite demonstrators.

Saudi demonstrators have mostly come from the Shiite-dominated eastern quarter of the kingdom. They share similar grievances as their Shiite brethren in the nearby island monarchy, and the Sunni powers fear their unrest will give an opening to Shiite Iran's military ambitions.

But the changes announced by Abdullah did not loosen the tribal monarchy's tight hold on power — a key demand of Saudi opposition figures. He thanked residents and security forces and asked them to remember him in their prayers.

"You are the shields of this homeland and the beating hand of those who dare challenge its security and stability. May God bless you and your actions," the king said in the three-minute speech.

More here.

Between this and the U.S. signing on to the No Fly Zone in Libya (which in fact is a resolution authorizing anything the U.N. wants to do to unseat Qaddafi) and, I don't know, a couple of ongoing wars and a few other things, the time has never been more ripe (read: rotting) for a serious discussion of U.S foreign policy. That conversation has been urgently needed since at least the end of the Cold War and, with the possible exception of George H.W. Bush's "New World Order" ramblings back in 1991, has largely gone missing. Clinton punted on first down, the second Bush invaded on first down, Obama is real busy in the locker room diagramming plays on the chalk board…

Can't anyone here play this game (sorry to mix sports metaphors)? The short answer, which has been unfolding over two decades-plus now, is no. I am a military non-interventionist but even I would be more comfortable with the completely wrongheaded adventurism of the past 20 years if I thought it stemmed from some set of definable principles and strategic vision that could at least be argued about. Instead, we've got foreign policy by absolute contingency. That's not good for us or the world, especially the people suffering under despotic regimes.

Related: I recommend Yaroslav Trofimov's 2008 The Siege of Mecca, which takes a long look at the 1979 occupation of Islam's holiest site by religious fanatics and the eventual killing of same by French special forces brought in by the Saudi government. Trofimov argues that this event, which predated the Iranian revolution, is the big moment when Saudi Arabian leaders decided to buy off dissent at home by funding Islamic extremism abroad. It's a gripping read and a long look at one of the most odious ruling elites of the past 100 years.

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  1. “You are the shields of this homeland and the beating hand of those who dare challenge its security and stability.”

    Huh?

    1. I assume that’s a badly translated version of “baton arm”, sort of like “sword arm”, but more modern police statey.

      1. Or it could just be “pimp-slapping hand” I guess.

        1. You gotta keep your pimp-hand strong!

  2. He also announced 60,000 new jobs in the security forces ? a move that would employ huge numbers of otherwise jobless young men, while bolstering his kingdom’s ability to snuff out protests.

    And that’s why they pay him the king bucks.

  3. moving to saudi soon
    yippie yi o ky aye !

  4. I would like to see the Suadi Royals heads on sticks. But sadly, I don’t see any reason to believe that the people who will put those heads there will be anything but crazy fucks along the lines of the people running Iran.

    According to Peggy Noonan in the WSJ today, the military is saying the new generation of Taliban are even more crazy than the ones we kicked out in 2001. These people are not going to quit. They are not going to go away. The whole thing is going to end apocolyptically badly.

    1. Which is why we should leave and let them slaughter each other.

      Who knows, maybe in a few centuries they’ll be ready to join the civilized world.

      1. Where do you suggest we “leave” to? These crazies aren’t simply asking for a nice piece of land so they can be left alone to rape goats and beat women, they want everyone to join their club.

        Ask Israel how well that whole compromise thing is working out.

  5. Oldest trick in the book, the rulers buy peoples loyalty, in the end it always fails though, because eventually the money runs out.

    Even in the West, with its more advanced and subtle vote buying techniques, this system cannot last forever.

    1. Harry Reid, age 71, begs to differ.

      1. Not really, he only wants it to last for 2-3 more senate election campaigns.

  6. Just in: Saudi King offers to blow 50,000 peasants…

  7. My memory of Trofimov’s excellent book is that he debunked the notion that French special forces had anything to do with the final assault on the Kaabah complex. A small team of French technical advisors never got closer to Mecca than Riyadh, IIRC.

    1. Are you saying Trofimov debunked that the french were involved in raid? Or are you saying that Trofimov was debunked for stating in his book that French special forces were invloved in the raid?

      Trofimov definitely believed that western special forces were involved in the ending the seige. In the book he wrote that the French forces had to say that they had converted to Islam to enter Mecca.

      1. I was saying that I thought Trofimov debunked the “French forces did it” story. But I could well be remembering it wrong–it’s been five or six years since I read the book (IIRC and FWIW).

  8. if I thought it stemmed from some set of definable principles and strategic vision that could at least be argued about.

    This right here. Its always much, much more difficult to respond to events when you have no defining principles.

    Let me suggest a couple, for starters, the first of which happens to be in the Constitution:

    (1) The US military will not participate, directly or indirectly, in any active conflict against a sovereign nation without a Congressional declaration of war.

    Two issues with this: (a) Does an AUMF count? and (b) Depending on what “indirectly” means, this would have barred the WWII lend-lease program supporting Britain prior to 12/07/41.

    (2) The US will not provide military support to a government engaged in a civil war unless the government meets minimum standards of legitimacy, including (a) periodic democratic elections and (b) respect for minimal human rights.

    1. “The US military will not participate, directly or indirectly, in any active conflict against a sovereign nation without a Congressional declaration of war.”

      I kind of have to call you on that oen RC. Maybe Harvard teaches a different Constitution. But the one my law school uses says

      To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

      And indeed, the President has always used the military in situations where there was no war declared. I would point you to the Barbary War as an example. There Jefferson, whom I hear was quite the small government type, acted without a formal declaration of war from Congress. At best he had a couple of Congressional authorizations to protect American seaman. But never a declaration of war on the Pasha.

      1. To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

        OK, I’ll give you Letters of Marque and Reprisal. If the Congress wants to empower private ships to engage in naval warfare without a declaration of war, they can.

        the President has always used the military in situations where there was no war declared. I would point you to the Barbary War as an example.

        Good point. I don’t think you necessarily need a declaration of war to take military action against countries that are aggressors against the US, which the Barbary states were. If they start it, the war is on whether we declare it or not.

        Of current conflicts, I would say that neither Libya nor Iraq started a war with the US, but Afghanistan did. Iran is also engaged in warfare against the US, BTW.

        Going back, I would say that North Korea did not start a war with the US, but Germany arguably did with its attacks on US shipping (although Germany could say that those ships were supporting its military opponents as part of the official policy of the US, so the US started that war).

        1. Both Germany and the Barbary States declared war on the US. It makes sense that once a country declares war on the US, the President shouldn’t have to wait for Congress to declare war back.

          Iran is clearly making war on the US. So was Afghanistan. The US had effectively declared war on Iraq in 1990. Iraq was refusing to abide by the ceasefire. And Congress did approve the use of force in Iraq in 2003.

          That brings up an interesting point, when does the BO plan to get Congressional Authorization for the war in Libia?

          1. Germany hadn’t declared war before Pearl Harbor, so I think the question of whether lend-lease should have been authorized under Congressional authority to declare war is an interesting one. Its a marginal case.

            True enough that we had Congressional authorization and an active war (temporarily suspended under a ceasefire with Iraq). Iraq didn’t start a war with the US, though.

            Still, principle 1 needs to be refined:

            The US military will not participate, directly or indirectly, in any active conflict against a sovereign nation without a Congressional declaration of war, unless the sovereign nation initiates hostilities against the US.

            1. One point about Germany, they declared war on December 8th. It was far from certain that the US would have declared war on Germany in the wake of Pearle Harbor. It was the Japanese who attacked us and declared war. And the country only twenty three years removed from losing several hundred thousand lives in World War I had no apitite for entering the war in Europe. Declaring war on the US was one of the most inexplicable and insane things Hitler ever did.

              1. Hitler was convinced that the Japanese had never lost, and could never lose a war. Like a psychotic gambler on a “rush” who just knows he can’t lose, Hitler went all in.

                In any case, it was inevitable that he’d have to fight the Americans, one way or another. And it would have been out of character to have waited for “Roosevelt and those other New York Jews” to declare war on Germany.

              2. Declaring war on the US was one of the most inexplicable and insane things Hitler ever did.

                This is true. The Japanese were scared shitless he’d demand a quid pro quo – Japan declare war on Russia. (Which would have been the end of Russia). Hitler had no knowledge of, or respect for, the US.

                1. Japan had already tried that and Zhukov beat ’em crosseyed at Khalkhyn Gol.

            2. The constitution gives Congress the power to declare war; it doesn’t give Congress the power to hand the decision over to the president.

              This was intended to force Congress members to go on record as believing the object of the war was worth more than the lives of their constituents and their constituents’ children. With the AUMF regime you get travesties such as Hildog claiming that she didn’t vote for war, she voted for Bush to make a decision.

          2. That brings up an interesting point, when does the BO plan to get Congressional Authorization for the war in Libia?

            He learnt it by watching Ronald.

      2. And his predecessor signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law.

        Just because one of the Founders did something doesn’t make it constitutional.

  9. “Can’t you see this is the last act of a desperate man?!?!”

    1. I don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry the V.

  10. Nick, what is a “grotesque autoracy”?

    Something to do with NASCAR?

  11. I would be more comfortable with the completely wrongheaded adventurism of the past 20 years if I thought it stemmed from some set of definable principles and strategic vision that could at least be argued about. Instead, we’ve got foreign policy by absolute contingency.

    That’s the historical norm for empire building.

  12. Saudi Arabia are taking a break from killing protesters in Bahrain

    Any evidence that Saudi troops shooting at people? All accounts I heard said that it was Bahraini police and troops who did the shooting.

  13. Since Vietnam, I remember Grenada, Libya, Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, Sudan, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya (again) where USA has sent troops or planes. For how many of these engagements can someone say that they benefited the USA?

  14. Well, maybe not the entire USA, but us medal- and ribbon-makers made out OK.

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