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A warrior prince rises in Arabia as the monarch of all he surveys

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 22, 2017

The royal decree of June 21 by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman as the Crown Prince and next in line to the throne is a watershed event in Middle East politics. Such a development has been expected for some time, but when it actually happened, it still looks momentous and somewhat awesome.

For a start, 31-year old MbS, whom many tend to deride as the “warrior prince”, has earned a reputation for being rash in the use of force. The extremely brutal war in Yemen is his signature foreign-policy project. Saudi Arabia, famous for its caution and its glacial pace of decision-making, has changed remarkably since MbS trooped in alongside King Salman to the centre stage of the Saudi regime in January 2015.

Considering King Salman’s age and health condition, MbS is being positioned in advance so that there will be no succession struggle. MbS has been steadily tightening his grip on the key instruments of power through the past 2-year period – national security apparatus and intelligence, armed forces and oil industry – in a grim power struggle with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has now lost the game and is retiring from the arena.

With the vast powers of patronage vested in MbS as the Crown Prince, make no mistake, the winner takes it all. In short, the Persian Gulf’s – nay, Middle East’s – power house is about to get a new ruler who is only 31 and he may lead Saudi Arabia for decades.

The timing of the shift in the power fulcrum cannot but be noted. It is exactly one month since US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia. Trump’s visit revived the Saudi-American alliance, which was adrift during the second term of President Barack Obama. MbS has emerged as the Trump administration’s number one interlocutor in the Saudi regime, superseding Nayef who used to be the favorite of the Obama administration.

MbS has forged links at personal level with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. In a rare gesture, the Prince invited Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump to his residence for a private meal during father-in-law Trump’s visit to Riyadh. So, Saudi-US relations from now onward will be a cozy, exclusive, secretive family affair imbued with a “win-win” spirit – as it used to be in the halcyon days when the Bush family was holding power in the US.

Trump’s visit to Riyadh signalled that Saudi Arabia has regained its stature as the US’ number one partner in the Muslim Middle East. Trump has publicly endorsed the Saudi stance in their standoff with Qatar, which, incidentally, is widely attributed to MbS.

MbS is widely regarded as the mastermind of the tough policy policy to isolate Qatar to make it submissive and has personally identified with the virulently anti-Iran thrust in the Saudi regional strategies. Therefore, MbS’ ascendancy impacts Middle East politics along the following fault lines:

·         The war in Yemen;

·         The standoff with Qatar;

·         The Saudi-Iranian tensions;

·         The nascent Saudi-Israeli regional axis;

·         Situation in Syria and Gaza and/or Lebanon; and,

·         The crackdown in Bahrain.

It remains to be seen whether the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) can be preserved. MbS enjoys personal rapport with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. But other GCC states — Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — will have a profound sense of unease about the “warrior prince” and this may lead to some major realignments in the Persian Gulf.

On the one hand, MbS may advance a normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If that happens, Israel breaks out of isolation and the Arab-Israeli conflict can never be the same again. Again, it is conceivable that MbS may throw the Palestinians under the bus. On the other hand, Iran too may finally succeed in breaching the GCC cordon that Saudi Arabia had erected, which in turn, may somewhat blur the sectarian divide in the Muslim Middle East and bring about a convergence of interests with Qatar and Turkey as regards perceived Saudi hegemony.

MbS is a man in  a hurry. He has radical ideas to transform Saudi society and its economy under the rubric of Vision 2030. He has brought in western-educated technocrats into the governmental apparatus, replacing the Old Guard. How the conservative religious establishment views these winds of change remains the big ‘unknown unknown’ — especially MbS’ management style such as his openness to out-of-the-box thinking, his uniquely public profile in a deeply conservative country, his risk-taking character and his willingness to break conventions.

There is indeed a lot of pent-up disaffection within Saudi Arabia, which makes the period of reform and transition very tricky. The example of Shah’s Iran readily comes to mind. In the ultimate analysis, therefore, the big question is Who is the real MbS?

Clearly, his conduct so far cannot be the yardstick to fathom his personality, since it was primarily a swift, decisive action plan to elbow out the incumbent Crown Prince and take his job. Now that MbS’ actual hold over the levers of power is going to be unchallenged, his priorities can also change. Indeed, there are intriguing sides to his personality – his personal role in forging Saudi Arabia’s working relationships with Moscow, his determination to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil, his appeal to the Saudi youth as the harbinger of “change” and so on. The bottom line is that social and political stability in the country is vital for the success of Vision 2030, in which MbS has staked his prestige, envisaging wide-ranging structural reforms, geo-economic restructuring and the infusion of massive investments.

King Salman’s recent visit to China underscored that MbS understands the potential linkage between his Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, China is highly receptive to the idea, too. Deals worth $65 billion were signed in Beijing during King Salman’s visit. Similarly, MbS has been a frequent visitor to the Kremlin and enjoys some degree of personal rapport with President Vladimir Putin. The OPEC decision on cut in oil production has been a joint enterprise in which Putin had a “hands-on” role. Rosneft has signalled interest in acquiring shares in Aramco when its “privatisation” begins next year, and at the recent meet of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the two countries agreed to set up a joint energy investment fund.

MbS, who is Saudi Defence Minister, has also intensified his country’s military cooperation with Russia and China. A notable project will be the Chinese drone factory to be set up in Saudi Arabia. Again, Russia is in talks currently for the sale of T-80 battle tanks to Saudi Arabia, among other weaponry.

Suffice to say, MbS is quite aware of the seamless possibilities that the multipolar world setting offers. It is useful to remember that MbS is a unique Saudi prince who never attended a western university. He is far from a greenhorn in the world of politics either, having begun as fulltime advisor to the council of ministers in 2007.

Indeed, his trademark is his assertiveness in foreign policies that stands in sharp contrast with the traditional Saudi style, and, which, therefore, looks aggressive. But then, it needs to be factored in that the war in Yemen and the strident anti-Iran outlook are immensely popular in the domestic opinion in terms of the surge of Saudi nationalism. The big question, therefore, will be how he deploys the surge of nationalism — amongst the youth, in particular — in his hugely ambitious plan to reform and modernise the country. Traditionally, Saudi rulers used to derive legitimacy from the approval of the Wahhabist religious establishment. (Read an Al Jazeera write-up on MbS’s profile here.)

June 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Occupied Mentality Syndrome

Saudi Arabia on the American chessboard – Part 2

By B. J. Sabri | American Herald Tribune | April 19, 2016

Since the Korean War, but particularly since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 until today, the United States has been steadily escalating its military presence in the Persian Gulf. Taking advantage of many colossal events of the past 36 years, [1] the hyper-empire has institutionalized its massive presence on land and sea, and expanded its objectives to include the unambiguous physical control of the area, as well as the clear understanding that local Arab governments should abide by them. The pretext is always the same: in “defense” of the national interests and security of the United States. From observing how the United States has been interacting with the governments of the region, and by judging from the size of its expeditionary force, we could reach a basic conclusion. The United States is occupying, de facto, the entire Arabian Peninsula. (Yemen, devastated by Saudi and American jets is yet to be conquered. Oman? Britain returned not as colonial ruler but as a soft occupying power.)

Under this articulation, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are virtually occupied countries. If we compare this type of occupation to the mandate and protectorate regimes of the past, the results might be identical—the nations affected by it lose sovereignty. When Arab governments comply with the objectives of a foreign power that station military forces on their national milieu, then that power controls them in multiple ways including how they react to policy deliberations and what decisions they intend to take on specific issues. A good method to verify the concept of effective occupation is this: take notice of what the United States says and wants, and then compare it to what the gulf rulers do in response. (I shall discuss this detail at some point in the upcoming parts.)

If the presence of US forces or other means of political pressure are a factor in Saudi Arabia’s interventionist Arab wars, then we need to debate this issue. However, from the history of resistance to colonialism, we learnt: if a powerful state imposes its order on a nation by military means or other forms of coercion, and if this nation does not resist that imposition, then a mental subordination to the powerful state will ensue. This is especially true in the case of Saudi Arabia. One single event, 9/11, has transformed it from a US “ally” into an instant political hostage of the American Empire.

Nine-eleven did not only change the status of Saudi Arabia in American context, it also brought radical changes that altered the character of the regime. It worsened its domestic instability, increased its belligerence, amplified its religious chauvinism, and turned its arrogance of power into an instrument of death and destruction—all at the service of the United States. The reasons for such situation are known. Among the alleged attackers of the still-suspicious event of 9/11, there were 15 Saudi nationals.

More important, Wahhabism, a deranged, dogmatic version of Islam and the creed of Saudi Arabia, is coming under attack by the United States. Charge: it promotes “terrorism”. (Read Obama’s interview with the Atlantic Magazine.) This is, of course, a heavy blow to the US “ally’. How cynical and preposterous! Who could forget that just 36 years ago Carter and Brzezinski promoted Wahhabism as the religion of “freedom fighters” and “holy warriors”, and made Saudi Arabia pay for proselytes and weapons to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan? Without debating what terrorism is, and whether Wahhabism is promoting it, the fact that a master-terrorist superpower is doing such an accusation just today and after Wahhabi militants have destroyed Syria (and parts of Iraq) with US support, is an odious insult to all those who were killed by US and Saudi barbarity through Wahhabi proxies.

Now, from studying the US-Saudi financial and military interactions in all years before 9/11, it is reasonable to conclude that the Saudi regime had become the financier of the American interventionist agenda. Did 9/11 change those interactions? Considering Saudi Arabia’s role in the US invasion of Iraq and their continuing efforts in the wars against Libya, Syria, and Yemen, it is equally reasonable to conclude that 9/11 did not alter the basic Saudi-American relation. However, ample evidence suggests that the United States will continue using the Saudi tool until it will no longer need it. Still, 9/11 did affect their relation—it brought changes to the US strategy for controlling Saudi Arabia and other gulf governments. In addition, the intricate relation between Saudi Arabia of post‑9/11 with the United States of pre-9/11 had also gone through some changes. Nevertheless, relations between the two kept evolving in cadence with the changing of rhythms of 9/11 and with its political interpretations and propagandistic use.

From observing the events from 9/11 forward, it can be said that the Saudi function on the American chessboard changed too. Nine-eleven has transformed Saudi Arabia from a financier and supplier of religiously driven mercenaries to become a powerful criminal organization with a plan to execute. As often discussed by US and Israeli think tanks, that plan cannot be clearer in its declared tenets. I am pointing to the imperialist planned remake of the geostrategic assets and political orders of current Arab states. As such, the US invasion of Iraq, US-NATO bombardment of Libya, US-Saudi-Qatari war in Syria, US-Saudi-UAE war in Yemen, US-Saudi-Kurdish war in Iraq and Syria, and US-ISIS war in Syria, Iraq, and Libya are but one seamless chapter in this plan. With that, 9/11 has become an emblematic alibi for US imperialist expansions. [Read: B. J. Sabri, Imperialist Expansions and 9/11) [2]

Of interest, the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a terrorist, and expansionist state at the service of the United States (and Israel) did not help alter the way with which the US intended to play the card of 9/11. We need not speculate on the fact that the Saudis are fully aware of the American ploy and its objectives. Yet, their pressing priority has been all too evident: decrease pressure and preempt any pretext for a potential intervention in exchange for bending to US demands. Despite many American voices calling for the nuclear incineration of Saudi Arabia under the pretext of its alleged role in 9/11, the US government— who knows the entire truth about 9/11—had different calculations. (Rich Lowry, now the editor of the National Review, called for the destruction of Mecca with nuclear bombs. [3] Statement: US nuclear lunatics have no right to incinerate Saudi Arabia—not even a grain of its desert sand. If Saudi Arabia is guilty of something, and the US can prove it through an unbiased team of international panelists, then let them take it to international courts and punish it with civil laws.)

Incidentally, would the United States attack Saudi Arabia if its culpability was proved in international courts? Speculations aside, the United States might not attack Saudi Arabia for one fundamental reason: Saudi Arabia, a US “partner”, had nothing to do with 9/11—and the US knows that very well. In addition, if there were a verifiable Saudi regime’s involvement in 9/11, why wait this long to take action? That is said, the central motive for which the United States does not want to touch Saudi Arabia has to do with the function it established for it. The Saudi regime is an open bank for US world operations, chief buyer of its weapons, oil price manipulator to strangle Russia and Iran, a potential ally of Israel, and controller of the so-called Arab league to gain spurious legitimacy for US policies in the region.

In short, the United States needs Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has all the qualifications the United States needs in a regional player willing to play by its rules. The Saudi regime fits this profile for a number of reasons. It is ideologically structured yet pliable to US views, politically conditioned by an archaic system of governance, socially obscurantist to control potential unrest inimical to Washington, aggressive against neighbors, ruthless against dissenters, but above all, it has a lot of money and is willing to spend it on the American cause.

It is logical to argue, that 9/11 presented the Saudi regime with hard choices regarding their relation with the United States. To save its neck from possible and ever-present American accusations involving it in 9/11, the regime had to re-invent itself. It went from being a willing executioner of the older American agenda (destabilizing Communism, etc.) to be the chief agent of destruction at the service of a re-energized US imperialism with a new agenda.

I am referring to the Zionist American plan to redraw the map of current Arab states and alter their historically developed socio-political and cultural realities. To be sure, 9/11 was also the factor that altered another Saudi reality. It broke Saudi Arabia’s long held assumption for being America’s enduring “partner”. Aside from that, 9/11 benefitted the United States in another way. It securely placed Saudi Arabia and all of its oil and money between the unyielding clutches of US imperialism.

My argument of the Saudi succumbence to the US power is threefold. First, the Saudi regime realizes it has no means, power, or courage to make the United States leave the Gulf or, at least, lessen its supremacy over the governments of the gulf. Second, consequent to this realization, submissiveness to it in the form of fear sets in and resistance to it disappears. Third, besides protracted psychological conditioning, other tangible factors turned the Saudi-American relation into a complex interplay.

On one side, we have the Saudi deference to the United States. I view this deference as follows: (1) confluence and reciprocal opportunism of two different but oppressive ideologies —Wahhabism and imperialism; (2) oil and petrodollars, and (3) a long history of secret deals—since the day Franklin D. Roosevelt met Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1945. On the other, we have a supremacist superpower that views Al Saud as no more than a backward tribal bunch whose primary function is providing special services to the United States. These include cheap oil, buying US weapons, investing oil money in the US capitalistic system, supporting US hegemonic quest, buying US national debt, and bankrolling its covert operations and wars.

To drive the point, I argue that the combination between lack of means, lack of resistance, and other forms of dependence (US political and public relations support, for example) has created a situation of dependency. It incrementally forced the Saudi regime into a mental subordination to the United States similar to an occupied mentality. What is an occupied mentality?

As stated earlier, noticing the magnitude of US military forces stationed at sea, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, and Jordan there can be but one conclusion: all these countries are under virtual US occupation. In addition, if we consider US global and regional agenda and the objective of its forces in the region, stating that the material occupation of the Gulf is moving in unison with a parallel occupation of the mind of rulers is a valid statement. Let us take the example of Iraq and see if applies to Saudi Arabia. By all definitions, Iraq of today is a top example of an occupied mentality. Whereas the United States has been occupying Iraq from 2003 until now—through scattered military bases and by directives from the US “embassy”—, the American-appointed Iraqi government still pretends that Iraq is an independent state. This is not schizophrenia. It is a conscious mental adaptation to an existing reality named occupation.

To articulate the argument of occupied mentality, I argue that an array of psychological processes is behind the mental adaptation to imposed captivity. This means, accepting subjugation to a foreign power is not only a symptom of besieged mentality, but also a conscious effort to turn that subjugation into a feeling of normalcy. In turn, this feeling becomes the primary impulse for cohabitation between occupiers and occupied. Generally, the lack of resistance to subjugation is, by itself, acquiescence to it: as a process and as result. At this point, it does not matter whether this acquiescence is induced, taught, imposed or voluntary—the result is still subjugation.

Considering this argument, Saudi Arabia is no different from Iraq when the issue is the adaptation to US domination. For instance, the Saudi regime knows it is under US siege. And it knows that the United States is waiting for the appropriate occasion to strike it someway. Yet, the Saudi regime is busy these days dispensing threats left and right, even to the power that nurtured its monstrosities, with the hope that someone would buy its trivial performance of national strength. To conclude, rulers who live under any form of foreign occupation or diktat and rulers who have lost their basic national decision-making are neither sovereign nor free.

Mapping the transformation of Saudi Arabia in terms of events is an incisive tool to navigate through the mysteries of the Saudi-American relation. Take, for example, the role played by the Saudi regime in Soviet-invaded Afghanistan. With so much money and relative stability, Al Saud had neither national imperatives nor definite rationales to spend billions of dollars on that war. Did they participate in it as (A) an act of self-defense against adversaries who never attacked them, (B) opposition to Communism, or, (C) a response to US-prodding?

For one, the claim that Saudi Arabia intervened in Afghanistan to fight Communism is rubbish. Many regimes of that period opposed Communism. Yet, none took their opposition to the fanatical militant level taken by Al Saud. Moreover, fighting invaders does not translate automatically into fighting the ideology driving their politico-economic system. These are two different categories. Vietnam is an example. The Vietcong fought the American invading force (and the South-Vietnamese army). But nowhere could one read that Vietnam’s war of liberation was directed against US capitalism as a system.

Second, is there any truth to the other claim that the Saudi intervention was an act of solidarity with Muslim Afghanistan? If religious feelings were driving the regime’s animosity against the Soviet invaders, then these same feelings should have risen when the United States invaded a predominately Arab and Muslim Iraq. In that occasion, the Wahhabi regime (whose religious scholars, preachers, and countless imams consistently dub Westerners as heathens, infidels, and nonbelievers)not only did not release a whisper against the coming invasion, it blessed and supported it. (It is on record what Bandar bin Sultan, a high- ranking Saudi emir with a 20-year tenure as ambassador to Washington, with ties to AIPAC and US Zionism, and with intimate connections to the Bush family had said on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. “I will not shave my beard until the US occupies Iraq and kills Saddam Hussein,” then addressing the American public, he added, “I will pray for the life of every one of your soldiers . . .”)

For debate: in terms of semantic equivalency, words such as heathens, atheists, infidels, nonbelievers, etc. are conceptually compatible. A question to the Saudis: why fight the Soviet invaders of Muslim Afghanistan under the charge of atheism, but never fight the Americans invaders of Muslim Iraq under the same charge?

Next: Part 3  

NOTES

  1. Examples: the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraqi invasion of Iran, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and US-NATO bombardment of Serbia.
  2. The Splendid Failure of Occupation: Imperialist expansions and 9/11 (http://www.uruknet.info/?p=10086), 2005
  3. CounterPunch Services, National Review Editor Suggests “Nuking Mecca”, March 13, 2003

August 25, 2016 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment