Saudi Rulers Offer Cash for Caliphs


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.