ZenPundit
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
 
THIS OLD HOUSE...OF SAUD

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has posted a 160 page work in progress on Saudi Arabian national security problems and socioeconomic challenges in the context of the War on Terror.

I have not yet done more than skim this paper and while I don't expect any unconventional or radical recommendations from CSIS this paper does represent some very recent data on the Saudis, their capabilities, inclinations and strategic options. Foreign policy and MENA buffs will want to peruse it.
 
Comments:
Thanks, I will take a close look at this over the week end.
 
You are welcome. I generally find CSIS reports to be cautiously orthodox rather than creative but their research is usually quite solid.
 
I'll be interested in taking a look at it.

As presumably everyone recognizes (but is afraid to say) the real dog in the manger is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. IMO what is even more wanting than an Arab democracy is a Muslim Vatican City.
 
I already have a problem with the report. Here's my question: is a stable KSA in the best interests of the United States? The superficial answer is yes but I'm not as convinced that it's the correct answer.
 
First, apologies, I don't think I IDed myself, first comment was by me, Lounsbury.

Second, the Islamic world is not in need of an Islamic Vatican City - that utterly misunderstands Islam. It's an irrelevancy.

Third, no instability in KSA would not be a good idea. Largest single low cost producer of oil should not be unstable in an era of tight oil supplies. Something of a disincentive to investment and all that.

Unpleasant truths, but there it is.

collounsbury
 
Perhaps you misunderstand my point, collounsbury. Let me ask a series of questions. First, why is it good for the world for the Muslim holy places to be integrated into a state along with one of if not the largest suppliers of oil? Second, is it better for the world for the KSA to be stable and continue to subsidize hatred-fomenting clerics, export hatred of the West and possibly terrorism as well or unstable and unable to export oil? Surely this is a cost issue. Isn't there some point at which the cost of the KSA to the U. S. exceeds its value?
 
From my dimly remembered Catholic upbringing I'm not always sure the Vatican City is a good idea even for Catholicism ;o)

Collounsbury knows far more about Islam than I do but the Salafist- Wahabbi Sunnis of Saudi Arabia are not going to follow a "muslim papacy ", even if the House of Saud tried to set up such a thing ( tellingly, Abdul Aziz never claimed or tried to ressurect the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk when he booted the Hashemites out of the Hejaz and the defeated the al-Rasheed). It just isn't going to happen.

On the other hand, Dave has an important point. The Saudi state is funding and allowing it's citizens to fund radical, jihad preaching, madrassas all over the world ( 14,000+ just in Indonesia alone). That is a legitimate bone to pick with Riyadh because it is damaging our interests and ultimately destabilizing friendly governments. We cannot simply just throw up our hands and say - "Well, you know the Saudis, this is their religion " - actually it's a state policy. Emanating from Faisal's day, buying off radicals with proselytizing has increased as the House of Saud increasingly relied on the blessing of the religious scholars to bolster their political legitimacy. Policies can be reformed. Policies can change.

The Saudi royals did not survive as they have by being simple-minded fanatics but they aren't going to take risks until they feel the benefits or consequences outweight the status quo. So far we have coddled Riyadh because the Saudis control most of the flex in the oil market because they, unlike most oil producers do not pump at the upper limits of their production capacity. However, every relationship has it's limits of tolerance, even when there is a quid pro quo- and politically speaking, the tolerance of the American public has gotten pretty thin.
 
Lounsbury here:

(a) First, why is it good for the world for the Muslim holy places to be integrated into a state along with one of if not the largest suppliers of oil?
____

Well, good or not, the Good Lord(tm) or geological chance put the largest, cheapest to extract liq and gas hydrocarbon deposits in proximity.

No changing that fact.

(b) Second, is it better for the world for the KSA to be stable and continue to subsidize hatred-fomenting clerics, export hatred of the West and possibly terrorism as well or unstable and unable to export oil?
___________

Well, you see here is where people misunderstand things.

Saudi "subsidies" to Salafiste movements are not really the most important driver for Salafisme. In fact the Wahhabi view on religion is really not the predominant one in radical Islamist movements - they're not antithetical, but in my opinion the role of Saudis, money and otherwise is greatly exagerated. Take away KSA money, you have the same problems, the same actors.

(c) Surely this is a cost issue. Isn't there some point at which the cost of the KSA to the U. S. exceeds its value?
_______________

Sure, but hiving off Mecca and Medina do not address the problem.

Nor would an unstable KSA per se.

In my mind, sustained investment in hydrocarbon alternatives. Not idiotic short termist things like the fucking oil sands or the bloody Alaskan fields, but sustained investment in energy conservation (for economic reasons - efficiecy, brother, efficiency gains: painful upfront costs but a long run gain for the economy), on alternative fuels, etc. Tax the fuck out of gas, and put the money into a science fund - show the real cost as it were.

The only way one wins the game is (i) marginalizing over the medium term the oil producers, (ii) supporting growth oriented regimes in the region (read up on Tunisia: you want a model for the region, it's Tunisia. Not perfect, but sustained *real* growth of 5 percent year on year for 10 years is not something to shrug off. They could do better too. Forget pouring money into the corrupt Egyptian kleptocracy, focus on the guys who are really changing. Set up private equity like investment funds to invest in them, rather than bullshit aid programs)
 
Very interesting advice Col -

One of my friends whom I grew up with is a particle physicist - he is very high into the need for a major push for alternative fuels research. I'm in favor of that in terms of funding ( though the problem isn't just money, it's cognitive, we need breakthroughs in chemical engineering and nanotech or -ultimately - fusion research. Money certainly greases the wheels)but not in rationalizing the cost of mass producing inefficient but existing prototype systems by making gasoline even more expensive than buying a battery run novelty car.

There would be just too much of an drag on the economy and living standards due to transport costs if gas were, say, $ 5 -7 a gallon; it would also hit people of modest income very hard every time they visit the grocery store. I'd probably prefer a low general consumption tax to raise all the revenue that the scientific community could reasonably absorb for a crash research program.

I'll just endorse your favoring pro-growth states like Tunisia advice in whole cloth.
 
Lounsbury here:

In re subsidies: I was not thinking of subsidizing consumption of inefficient prototype model of alt. fuel transpart, but mass spending program on alt fuels - i.e. doing one of those things gov't does well, subsidizing pre-commercializable basic science and early applied science research.

I can see a role for some direct subsidies to get early infrastructure transition issues out of the way when there seems to be something commerical - sunk costs in liq hydrocarbons may end up stranding a lot of capital, investment in transition/conversion may not be commercially viable early on.

However, I don't see any way to address the problems of Saudi region except by reducing their leverage through reducing the importance of black gold.
 
"However, I don't see any way to address the problems of Saudi region except by reducing their leverage through reducing the importance of black gold."

Yes. I'm not familiar with the specific projections but according to Tom Barnett, China's ( and India's) demand for oil is going to skyrocket in the next few decades - enough to claim everything the undeveloped fields of Central Asia ( and probably Russia) can pump if their production is ever maximized.

Of course if the Saudis lose their flex and become maximized producers of oil due to rising aggregate demand, they have lost leverage though not importance. Though by that time oil would be so expensive we will have ither things to worry about.
 
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