Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Silent Saudis

The sleeping giant, at least politically speaking, in the Middle East right now is Saudi Arabia. They've endured the Iraq war, which they were privately adamantly opposed to, without much public protest. Now that the very worst has come about in Iraq, and Bush has made it clear that he's not interested in fixing the problems, Saudi Arabia is probably going to have to make some kind of move. From SA's perspective, a weak Shi'ite government in Iraq with widespread instability and political violence is the absolute nightmare scenario, and Bush is now saying that he plans to continue to prop that government up indefinitely.

So it is against that backdrop that, via Captain's Quarters of all places, I notice an article in this morning's Post reporting that the Saudi ambassador to the US has abruptly quit.

The Post speculates that it might have something to do with the ill health of the Saudi foreign minister, but the Saudi foreign minister has been in ill health for a long, long time. In the Ape Man's view, it's far more likely to have something to do with the recent closed-door meetings in Riyadh among leaders of Gulf oil states. From the Taipei Times on Monday:

Saudi King Abdullah warned on Saturday that the situation in the Middle East -- from the Palestinian territories to the Gulf -- was potentially explosive and likened it to a powder keg.

"Our Arab region is surrounded by dangers," said the monarch at the opening of a summit for leaders of the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries. "It is like a keg of gunpowder waiting for a spark to explode."

Palestinians were fighting among themselves, and Iraq "is about to slip into the darkness of strife and mad struggle," and so is Lebanon, King Abdullah said.

Following the Saudi monarch's speech, the leaders began a closed session.

The summit will discuss how to head off escalating dangers that threaten to spill over into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including the spiraling sectarian violence in Iraq and the nuclear standoff that pits a defiant Iran against the West.

So the timeline, basically, is that on Monday King Abdullah gave a speech about how the Middle East is a powder keg and something must be done. On Tuesday the Saudi ambassador to the US abruptly resigned and fled the US.

It's hard to speculate, knowing so little, about what might be going on. One thing we can say is that the Saudis are probably very worried right now that the war in Iraq could spill over into the arabian peninsula. That's a given.

The subtler question I would ask is whether the Saudis are becoming worried that their longstanding relationship with the United States is being threatened by the Iraq war, and are taking steps to break off the relationship before the US can do it first.

Although Saudi Arabia is still said to hold a huge percentage of proven world oil reserves, that is somewhat misleading. Since the Iraq war has driven oil prices above $50 a barrel with no clear end in sight, Venezuela now has more oil than Saudi Arabia, since a lot of their oil is unrecoverable below that cost. Sustained high oil prices help the kingdom financially, but hurt it politically.

A smart way to deal with this problem would be an operational alliance with Venezuela, through which the Saudis could retain (albeit jointly with Venezuela) an important world political perch. The problem, of course, is that Venezuela is an official US enemy, and Saudi Arabian overtures to Chavez would not be met with enthusiasm from US officials.

Chavez, for his part, has been doing his best to create a network of alliances with oil states across the globe, using some pretty interesting tactics. I'll go into what some of those have been another time, but suffice it to say that Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, and Iran (all oil states) have been brought into Chavez' orbit to some degree.

It's possible, and again this is speculation, but it's possible that Saudi Arabia has decided at long last that US military power being in a weakened state due to the Iraq war, and US political power being more or less nonexistent, the time is ripe to switch allegiances and cast their lot in with Veneuzuela and Iran. An alliance with Iran would seem unlikely to those who tend to see everything in the Middle East through the "Sunni vs. Shiite" lens (the Saudis are Sunni Arabs, while Iran is ruled by Shiite Persians), but both countries have a major interest in containing the Iraq war within Iraq's borders AND in maintaining the operability of the Strait of Hormuz as a viable export path.

As always, interest trumps principle.

Routine and Systematic Torture

Guardian UK| Routine and Systematic Torture Is at the Heart of America's War On Terror

If there is one topic I wish I could go back and make more noise about, it's the Jose Padilla case and the issue of habeas corpus erosion generally over the last five years. I wrote a post a couple days ago over at The Liberal Avenger that sums up my feelings on the matter, but this article in the Guardian does a nice job from a more traditional journalistic angle.

President Bush maintains that he is fighting a war against threats to the "values of civilised nations": terror, cruelty, barbarism and extremism. He asked his nation's interrogators to discover where these evils are hidden. They should congratulate themselves. They appear to have succeeded.


Monday, December 11, 2006

The Ape Man is Back

Inspired by Auguste's new project, The Guns of Auguste, I've decided to reopen The Ape Man for business.

Stay tuned.