Opinions May Vary

by Corey Robin on January 27, 2015

On Hugo Chavez…

John Kerry: “Throughout his time in office, President Chavez has repeatedly undermined democratic institutions by using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power.”

New York Times: “A Polarizing Figure Who Led a Movement” “strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel”

Human Rights Watch: “Venezuela: Hugo Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy”


On King Abdullah…
John Kerry: “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom & vision.”

New York Times: “Nudged Saudi Arabia Forward” “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer” “a force of moderation”

Human Rights Watch: “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled”

{ 133 comments }

1

Anderson 01.27.15 at 8:30 pm

It’s not just *whether* you have oil, it’s *how much* oil you have, I guess.

2

Corey Robin 01.27.15 at 8:38 pm

Actually, according to Doug Henwood, Venezuela has more proven oil reserves than does Saudi Arabia. This is what he emailed me the other day: “According to the BP Annual Statistical Review, a standard source for these things, SA has about 16% of proven (or proved, as the Brits say) oil reserves, and Venez about 18%. Venez oil is of lower quality and is harder to pump…”

3

Hidari 01.27.15 at 9:14 pm

“It’s not just *whether* you have oil, it’s *how much* oil you have, I guess.”

I think you’lll find that in reality it’s how much oil you make available to the United States, and under what terms, that decides whether you are a ‘saint’ or ‘sinner’ in the eyes of the American corporate media.

Inicidentally, if anyone cares, Adam Curtis has just made a movie about one of the most important (and unheralded) political meetings of the 20th century: that between the Saudis and the Americans at (Great) Bitter Lake in 1945. It’s called Bitter Lake, of course.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02gyz6b/adam-curtis-bitter-lake

4

Vladimir 01.27.15 at 9:32 pm

First let me extend my belated condolences to the American foreign policy establishment – they’re taking King Abdullah’s death very hard. Second, I would suggest we examine how the word moderate is used in American foreign policy. Moderates are not placed on some ideological continuum ( I don’t recognize a state of the world in which wahhabis are moderate compared to anyone) but how their foreign and domestic policy goals, compliment America’s foreign policy goals. As a reformer, well, how would Abdullah compare with Nasser? Or for that matter any of the pan-Arab nominally socialist regimes of the 60’s and 70’s. Most of these were of course , friendly with the Soviets. Unlike all the wise , moderate , reformers , who have ruled Saudi Arabia since the kingdom’s founding.

5

stevenjohnson 01.27.15 at 9:39 pm

An excellent selection that highlights the moral values of the US government.

But it’s nothing new. Since the days in ancient Athens when layabouts were paid jurors, or unpropertied free man were paid rowers , the rich and the well born have disdained demagogy as the worst form of tyranny. Not the least important step Caesar Augustus made in establishing the principate was adopting Claudians into the family, instead of continuing as a popularis like Julius Caesar. The best people were equally adept in distinguishing a Chavez from a Saud, hence the different reactions to the death of a Caesar.

And all the best people of later times have been gravely sympathetic to these distinctions when replicated on a contemporary stage. That’s why the Founders erected a system designed to deadlock change as much as possible, leaving the class essentials out of the grasp of designing politicians. Personally I think it’s high time we start emphasizing how the Founders’ schemes lead to the Civil War, rather than have John Kerry utter the same poisonous sentiments, but that’s me.

6

JW Mason 01.27.15 at 9:56 pm

I think you’lll find that in reality it’s how much oil you make available to the United States

Venezuela is the number 3 or 4 supplier of oil to the US, after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and sometimes Mexico.

It’s not about that. It’s about accepting the rule of money as the organizing logic of society. Or not.

7

Zamfir 01.27.15 at 10:07 pm

Not that either? Saudi Arabia is a genuine non-symbolic monarchy with a heavy-handedly enforced official religion. You can hardly accuse them of making money the organizing logic of society.

8

Ronan(rf) 01.27.15 at 10:15 pm

Path dependance ?

9

TheSophist 01.27.15 at 10:18 pm

Monarchy > Socialism. Is it really much more complicated than that? Oh, and I suppose that the fact that Chavez loudly and frequently criticized the US didn’t help.

10

Brett Bellmore 01.27.15 at 10:30 pm

We haven’t had the chance to get dependent on Venezuelan oil, so no Stockholm syndrome. That’s all. We’ve been held hostage to the Saudis’ whims long enough to get pathological about it.

If Chavez hadn’t run the Venezuelan oil industry into the ground, I suppose it might matter how much they have in the way of proven reserves. Maybe they can rebuild, and eventually get the world dependent enough to pretend the next monster who runs the place is a nice guy.

11

js. 01.27.15 at 10:41 pm

TheSophist is about right, I think. Socialism, or anything left of mainstream Dem politics, must be denounced as dictatorial. Extremely conservative/reactionary regimes, not so much.

12

TM 01.27.15 at 10:51 pm

Thanks for that Corey. Wish Jon Stewart would quote from it.

13

Holden Pattern 01.27.15 at 10:54 pm

I really have to agree with Brett here. I mean, he might conceivably be wrong if the United States had a documentable track record of “at least he’s our sonofabitch” thinking with respect to murderous right-wing dictators and hostility toward left-leaning governments, even to the point of active involvement in planning and assisting in the execution of coups against those governments.

But of course we don’t have that sort of track record, so Ockham’s Razor suggests, in concert with Brett, that it’s merely exposure over time that trapped us in a Stockholm-syndrome relationship with the Saudis, but not Chavez.

14

Julian F 01.27.15 at 11:03 pm

Very disappointed to see Human Rights Watch up there.

15

Ze Kraggash 01.27.15 at 11:05 pm

What are you talking about? Saudi Arabia is a client state, and Chavez’ Venezuela was an independent state. That’s all there is to it. That’s also why Viktor Orban is a fascist dictator, Putin is evil incarnate, and the neonazi regime in Kiev a shining city upon a hill.

16

engels 01.27.15 at 11:11 pm

“For all its faults, the U.S. government remains the most powerful proponent of human rights, and the Human Rights Watch base in the United States gives the organization special access to Washington.”
-Kenneth Roth

17

Matt 01.27.15 at 11:12 pm

“Stockholm-syndrome due to oil” doesn’t quite properly explain it either. That might explain it for official mouthpieces of the US government, but that’s no excuse for journalists or NGOs to pull their punches denouncing the abominable Saudi government’s record on civil and human rights.

18

Jeff R. 01.27.15 at 11:31 pm

There might be more than a little of “anything that might conceivably replace the Saudi Monarchy would almost certainly be far, far worse, while we still have some hope that Venezuela might improve” in there. Whether or not said opinions are accurate or ulteriorly-motivated to begin with.

19

LFC 01.27.15 at 11:42 pm

Ze Kraggash:
Saudi Arabia is a client state [of the U.S.], and Chavez’ Venezuela was an independent state.

The first part of this sentence is roughly correct, I think, though some may prefer different terminology. The second part of the sentence, however, won’t do — it’s not just that Venezuela under Chavez was an “independent state”, it’s that its whole stance on the world stage, apart from its oil sales, was aimed at tweaking, checking, undermining, or otherwise making things difficult for whatever U.S. admin was in power. Did this policy actually “work” in some sense beyond merely being an irritant to the U.S.? I don’t know and will leave that to others who followed the relevant things more closely.

(Btw, a bit OT, but I was glancing at something on higher education in Latin America the other day that suggested Venezuela under Chavez was the only left govt that took real measures to increase access to higher ed.)

20

Tabasco 01.27.15 at 11:50 pm

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

21

TM 01.27.15 at 11:54 pm

“tweaking, checking, undermining, or otherwise making things difficult for whatever U.S. admin was in power”

Really, Chavez was trying to “undermine” the US government. Astonishing what people are willing to believe.

22

LFC 01.27.15 at 11:55 pm

Ronan @7
I don’t think ‘path dependence’ alone is going to explain too much here, except possibly help explain why the U.S. hasn’t drastically changed some of its basic alliances or ‘clients’ in the ME in a long time, but even then you’d need to bring in the details, which you know as much or more about than I do, I wd think.

23

LFC 01.27.15 at 11:59 pm

TM
Really, Chavez was trying to “undermine” the US government. Astonishing what people are willing to believe.

Possibly not the best choice of words on my part. He wasn’t trying to overthrow the US govt, obvs, but did oppose its policies, constantly jabbed at it rhetorically etc. How much of that was effective, as I said, is a question I leave to others.

24

js. 01.28.15 at 12:06 am

LFC @22:

But even there, my sense (which could well be wrong) is that he did a lot more of the rhetorical jabbing after the U.S. funded a coup against his govt. And even if not, after the coup attempt, he had fair cause. (And on the other hand e.g., Venezuela provided subsidized fuel to Massachusetts some years during winter, etc.)

25

Holden Pattern 01.28.15 at 12:17 am

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

The magic word there is “foolish”, not “consistency”.

26

novakant 01.28.15 at 12:32 am

This also explains why everybody and their dog is jumping up and down about human rights in Iran, which is a society waaaaay more liberal than SA (and many other states in the region). (Iran has the number 3 or 4 oil reserves and number 1 gas reserves)

Nb: I’m not saying the Venezuelan and Iranian governments aren’t a bunch of wankers …

27

Katherine 01.28.15 at 12:35 am

A largish section of the US seems to have a strange reverence (and nostalgia?) for monarchs and royal personages. Maybe it is the exotic unfamiliarity of it all, and the fact that the US never has to pay the bill for it.

28

Ze Kraggash 01.28.15 at 12:36 am

“was aimed at tweaking, checking, undermining, or otherwise making things difficult for whatever U.S. admin was in power”

What’s the disagreement here? In this modern world, the difference between a client state and an independent state is that the former follows the orders received from the US embassy, and the latter does not – it acts independently. Acting independently is more or less synonymous with “tweaking, checking, undermining, or otherwise making things difficult for whatever U.S. admin is in power.” If you consider yourself to be my boss, than either I follow your orders, or, if I don’t, you’re being undermined, and then we have a conflict, with all the tweaking, checking, and so on.

29

mattski 01.28.15 at 1:13 am

What are you talking about?
What’s the disagreement here?
What are you talking about?
What’s the disagreement here?

Poetry…

30

LFC 01.28.15 at 1:59 am

js. @24: you’re right that the US supported/funded the coup attempt

31

Leo Casey 01.28.15 at 2:05 am

Ah, yes, recall the failed coup against Chavez, but ignore Chavez’s own failed coup that started his political career.

This is one radical democrat who has no brief for the authoritarian theocracy of Saudi Arabia or the authoritarian Chavistas of Venezuela.

32

SN 01.28.15 at 2:26 am

Low expectations for authoritarian rulers maybe?

Or some misguided idea that praise for certain actions would motivate the next ruler?

No–of course not. A very revealing of set of comparisons.

33

LFC 01.28.15 at 2:29 am

@Ze Kraggash:

There’s a spectrum from a ‘client state’ like S.A. to a govt like Chavez’s Venezuela in terms of stances toward the U.S. Many countries are somewhere in between. Being a client state is not always quite as crude as “following orders from the US embassy.” It’s often a little more complicated than that. Therefore the boss/employee analogy doesn’t fit exactly here.

As Gary Sick remarked on the NewsHr this evening, the U.S. does not have all that much leverage over Saudi behavior on human rights, for ex. There is some flow of military aid, I presume (I wd have to check the figures), but nowhere near the amount the U.S. gives to, e.g., Israel and Egypt. Given what is happening in the region now (Yemen disintegrating; Libya apparently in near-collapse; continuing war in Syria and parts of Iraq, with ISIS hardly defeated despite its ouster from Khobani; the relatively new Afghan govt off to a somewhat shaky start; Israeli/Palestinian relations as bad as they’ve been in decades; nuclear negotiations w Iran at an esp. delicate point; etc.), the U.S. arguably ‘needs’ S.A. more than vice versa, or at least as much as.

34

Glen Tomkins 01.28.15 at 3:38 am

It’s OK if you’re our SOB. Chavez was decidedly not our SOB. Here’s to the prospect that Tsipras will prove to be an even bigger SOB, and not our SOB.

35

RoyL 01.28.15 at 5:00 am

One mostly pretended to be our friend so our diplomats and press give him the honor of saying false by nice things about him. The other mostly pretended to be our enemy, and maybe even believed it was for real, so our diplomats and press say bad things.

This is mostly courtesy, though foreign policy experts tend to completely confuse this with reality. As to the Saudis, as loved as they are among US elites, both far left and far right are united in seeing them as repugnant. Eventually when what the Gulf can do for American elites is less than the benefit that thise same elites can get from calling them out, they will be dropped faster than the Shah.

You can say it is sick but no great power has ever profited by calling out people while they are still of use. This is why voters in great powers generally don’t like foreign policy experts.

36

js. 01.28.15 at 5:20 am

The other mostly pretended to be our enemy

Once again, a rather odd thing to say about a government that the US actively helped try overthrow.

37

Magari 01.28.15 at 6:11 am

“It’s OK if you’re our SOB.”

Endthread.

38

Salem 01.28.15 at 9:10 am

Doesn’t the direction of travel matter more than the location? Simon de Montfort is generally praised and Walpole generally condemned, even though England was far more democratic under the latter, because of the belief that Walpole was making things less democratic and de Montfort was making things more.

It’s rather unfair to judge King Abdullah for the country he inherited. The statements above reflect a belief that he improved KSA in the course of his reign, whereas Chavez hurt Venezuela. Neither judgement strikes me as unreasonable.

39

John Quiggin 01.28.15 at 10:13 am

It seems to me that the assumption (shared by the FPC and most on the left) that there is some kind of rational self-interest involved on the US (ruling class) side of the alliance with Saudi Arabia is false. Sure, they have oil, but it’s been a long time since the US depended on Saudi oil, and now net imports are around zero. In aggregate, it can’t matter much to the US what the Saudis do.

More importantly, the belief in the importance of the alliance is shared by people who think that US policy should support high oil prices, those who want low oil prices and those who favor some ill-defined notion of stability [and among critics, imputing one or more of these motives]. On the other side of the equation, the Saudis have sometimes held the price up, sometimes pushed it down, sometimes promoted stability and sometimes volatility, with no apparent regard to the desires of their US protectors.

40

Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.28.15 at 10:24 am

As you may remember (or probably, not), I was born in Venezuela, left when Chávez got to power, and basically loathe the guy, his pals, the whole revolution farce, and all that.

(Feel free to dismiss me if you like, it is what I’m saying)

Now. One possible way to look at this is, Venezuela had a democratic system, flawed and all you want, but the point is, under Chávez and now Maduro, they have been working hard to make things more undemocratic. To consolidate their power above everything, use the Constitution they wrote as toilet paper, control all media, control the justice branch till is just an extension of the executive, etc.

On Saudi Arabia, a guy like the late King can be a “moderate” and a “reformer” by deciding to suck a little bit less, and to kinda pay attention to some other people now and then. Basically, the bar is very low.

Now, that said… fuck the Saudi Arabia monarchy and our Western stablishment for sucking up to them. It is a disgrace that we keep treating them like they are anything but a backward throwback to the worst characteristics of medieval life.

That our institutions fail to take them to task doesnt automatically mean that they are wrong to take on the chavistas. It just mean they are, surprise, a bunch of hypocrites.

41

Ze Kraggash 01.28.15 at 10:51 am

“On the other side of the equation, the Saudis have sometimes held the price up, sometimes pushed it down, sometimes promoted stability and sometimes volatility, with no apparent regard to the desires of their US protectors.”

What about the current crusade against Russia, accompanied by a massive drop of oil prices? Strange coincidence.

“but it’s been a long time since the US depended on Saudi oil, and now net imports are around zero”

It doesn’t matter where you import it from, it’s a global market. Plus, the US is not the US, it’s a global empire. Controlling a large portion of the most important resource in the world is a big advantage. In fact, a necessity. Plus the US dollar as the petrocurrency.

42

Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.28.15 at 10:57 am

Also, the whole “The US tried to overthrow him!!!!” bit…

It looks to me as part of the common narrative of the US controlling absolutely everything that happens in Latin America, to the point that Latin Americans are just there watching the US do its thing and, at the most, asking for a job in the conspiracy.

Chávez had a lot of enemies, inside of Venezuela. Starting with the higher ups in the military that were kind of angry at having a Lieutenant Colonel that would be in prison if not for a presidential pardon, and would be there for doing a coup they fought against, now giving them orders. And many others.

The US had its role – just saying to them that they would accept whatever government they put forward was important, but again, it is not like the politics of Latin America can be reduced to a rampage of the US bull among apathetic peasants.

43

Harald K 01.28.15 at 11:47 am

John Quiggin @ 39: “Sure, they have oil, but it’s been a long time since the US depended on Saudi oil, and now net imports are around zero.”

Oil is still a fairly fungible commodity last time I checked, so you should only care 1. how much oil Saudi Arabia pumps into the big pool that’s for sale, and 2. How much the US sips out of that pool. The answers are still “a lot” for both points, which means that the US is still dependent on Saudi oil. Whether the hydrocarbon molecules in your gas tanks physically came from Canada or Saudi Arabia is just a question of logistics. Economically, some 13% of them still came from Saudi Arabia.

44

novakant 01.28.15 at 11:54 am

It seems to me that the assumption (…) that there is some kind of rational self-interest involved on the US (ruling class) side of the alliance with Saudi Arabia is false. Sure, they have oil, but it’s been a long time since the US depended on Saudi oil, and now net imports are around zero. In aggregate, it can’t matter much to the US what the Saudis do.

I keep hearing this and I’m afraid it is entirely wrongheaded: US power and economic strength is based on worldwide hegemony and even if the US was completely self-sufficient with regards to energy it would still want and need to control as much of the flow of natural resources around the world as it can.

To repeat: it’s all about control – and the fact that the US cannot achieve complete control doesn’t negate the fundamental need and desire of the US to gain control. It is necessary to understand this, if one wants to understand US policy.

Only if one assumes that the US like, say, Denmark can US policy be called irrational – let’s all hope the US turns into Denmark in our lifetime, but I’m not holding my breath.

45

novakant 01.28.15 at 11:55 am

that the US islike,

46

soru 01.28.15 at 1:08 pm

Oil is fungible, vague concerns about hegemony sound suitably sinister but in practice generally mean something like ‘we think it would be a really bad idea if they started a regional war without consulting us’.

The real explanatory factor is arms sales, which are entirely non-fungible, discretionary and a decision actually made by by the targets of the flattery. Saudi Arabia spends something like $20 billion a year on western weapons. Due to the way the arms industry works, this is at least $10 billion a year of US/European weapon development programs that don’t need to be paid for by taxpayers.

Venezuela _sold_ oil indistinguishably from SA, but preferred to _buy_ Russian weapons.

Human rights concerns can just about override the arms sale factor, but historically, pretty much only when they rise to the level of ‘well publicized genocide’.

Note Denmark, as a second-tier arms exporter, is pretty much exactly as obsequious to the Saudi royals. And if you took away US hegemony and made it a second rank power, the obvious model for that would be the UK.

Which literally flew flags at half mast in mourning for King Abdullah.

47

Rich Puchalsky 01.28.15 at 1:20 pm

“Oil is still a fairly fungible commodity last time I checked”

So why is there so much controversy over Keystone XL? Surely the oil is supposed to magically transport itself, costlessly, to anywhere in the world?

Governments create markets, including building the physical infrastructure necessary for markets. The idea that oil has a global price and that’s just how it is without anyone having to do anything to make it so is a deeply neoliberal one, an illusion that the Saudi monarchy is happy to foster and that Venezuela under Chavez didn’t cooperate with. (Not written as a defense of Chavez.)

48

reason 01.28.15 at 1:27 pm

LFC
I googled it, Gary Sick is a real name. It is unbelievable what some people have to put up in life. Imagine being his mother, and choosing to have such a name.

49

reason 01.28.15 at 1:36 pm

Jesús Couto Fandiño @42
“To consolidate their power above everything, use the Constitution they wrote as toilet paper, control all media, control the justice branch till is just an extension of the executive, etc.”

You know this reminds me of someone!

Neo-confederates perhaps.

50

Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.28.15 at 1:38 pm

#49 It reminds me of a lot of parties right now in power all over the world, but I try to deal with it by opposing it anywhere, not just giving a pass to those parties that are on the left or on the right

51

reason 01.28.15 at 1:43 pm

I think soru @46 might be partly right. But my guess is that the Iranian revolution and the following oil crisis spooked the US into thinking that having a reliable negotiating partner sitting on top of the biggest reserves of exportable oil was worth looking the other way for.

52

Barry 01.28.15 at 2:13 pm

LFC: “Possibly not the best choice of words on my part. He wasn’t trying to overthrow the US govt, obvs, but did oppose its policies, constantly jabbed at it rhetorically etc. How much of that was effective, as I said, is a question I leave to others.”

How much support have the Saudis given to Al Qaida and ISIS?

How many radical madrassas do they support?

17 of 19.

53

Mr Punch 01.28.15 at 2:42 pm

Americans tend to regard true democracy not as government embodying the will of the people but as a system in which the voters can remove the government. We can get along with out-and-out dictatorships, but we REALLY HATE IT when elected governments immediately change the constitution to ensure their continuance in power. There have been worse regimes, by any standard, than Chavez’s (or Allende’s), but not necessarily more annoying to us. Note, too, that we have peculiar tensions in our relations with France and India, countries with “more legitimate” but still alternative claims to democracy.

54

reason 01.28.15 at 2:53 pm

Mr Punch @53,
sorry if I’m being thick here, but was that meant to be so incoherent or is it just accidental? I’m pretty sure that Holden Pattern is sarcasm, but with you I can’t tell.

55

Ronan(rf) 01.28.15 at 3:01 pm

I don’t know if arms sales explain the US relationship with Saudi, or at least if they explain that much. The US /Saudi relationship is decades old and is embedded in an alliance system and set of regional priorities that cant be dismantled over night, backed up by a significant set of interests (material and institutional) committed to maintaining it. The US/Saudi relationship exists as a complicated set of historical gaurantees (which might not make much sense now, but should be seen in the context of the time they were made), relationships (political,material, institutional), and geopolitical concerns. US policy makers do fear what would follow a collapse of the House of Saud, and not unreasonably as it very likely would be worse.
The US *has* (over the past 15 years especially) made policy choices that weren’t popular in Saudi (Iraq 2, Obama’s failure to support Mubarak/support for the MB, beginning of negotiations with Iran, ambivalence over Syria) What the last number of years have shown is how difficult it is to change track in the region (even if they were fully committed to it) , and how there really arent that many alternatives.
And, whatever about in the past, the US really has very little influence over the Saudi’s at this stage, so I’m not sure what the alternative is. A more detached/neutral perspective from the US (which I think is beggining to happen) and less explictly involved in the regions politics, would be good, IMO. More pressure on regional regimes to enact reform, support human rights, less willing to sell arms etc would ideally be the best outcome (but probably wont happen in any meaningful way) Efforts to foster regional cooperation and development , once the current violence subsides, is the only long term goal worth supporting.
Chavez, on the other hand, obviously cant be removed from the context of US hostility to Latin American leftists over the cold war,(although he came later) and the policy choices the US made in that context. And Chavez explicitly played that part. He was an ‘anti Yankee imperialism populist’ straight out of central casting. That doesn’t mean he, like a lot of people in the region, didn’t have A LOT of legit reasons to distrust the US (although, afaik, that the US ‘funded’ the coup is a bit much), or that he was history’s greatest monster, (I’d imagine that he was plausibly probably better than all the likely alternatives, although I dont know that for sure), just that when you adopt a specific role (openings to Cuba, close relationships with regimes the US is hostile towards, oppositional towards the US politically/ideologically etc) you’re probably going to get that response.
That would also (imo) have to be seen as the context for the relationship with Iran ; a number of decisions made after the Revolution (influenced especially, initially, by the hostage crisis) distrust built up on both sides and regional alliances and institutional interests built around the new reality.
The US isnt going to be able to do a complete volte face vis a vis Iran, so what’s the alternative ? Easing relations somewhat, trying to calm regional rivalries etc That would all be good, I agree. But it also means that you have to maintain some sort of relationship with regimes like the Saudi’s. The reality is (imo) that these decisons are difficult, and there really are very few very good choices.
What happens in 79 if the Islamic Revolution never happens, and the Shah is still in power today, but the Grand Mosque seizure leads to the overthrow of the House of Saud, replaced by more radical elements and the US breaks ties with the new regime? Are we sitting here pointing out the hypocricy of the US supporting the Shah, saying they should cool relations with the Saudi’s ?

This is a good obit of King Abdullah for anyone interested

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/22/king-abdullah-of-saudi-arabia?CMP=share_btn_tw

56

P O'Neill 01.28.15 at 3:23 pm

The al-Sauds have mastered one trick that all Arab autocrats rely on: telling the outsiders that, OK, we have our problems, but have you seen the guys behind the curtain who would be in charge here if I wasn’t? Chavez was never going to be in that category.

FWIW, I think the foreign policy wise men love-in with Abdelfattah al-Sisi is more repulsive and dangerous than with the al-Sauds.

57

J Thomas 01.28.15 at 3:40 pm

#39 JQ

It seems to me that the assumption (shared by the FPC and most on the left) that there is some kind of rational self-interest involved on the US (ruling class) side of the alliance with Saudi Arabia is false.

That’s an important point. It makes me feel better to believe in comforting things like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and predictable self-interest. But we can’t really depend on any of that.

Sure, they have oil, but it’s been a long time since the US depended on Saudi oil, and now net imports are around zero. In aggregate, it can’t matter much to the US what the Saudis do.

Has somebody maliciously hacked John Quiggin’s account and posted this in his name?

Gasoline prices in the USA were above $3/gallon and now they’re down to barely $2. People say that’s because of the Saudis. And the John Quiggin impersonator says that doesn’t matter? Maybe he thinks it wasn’t the Saudis who made that happen? If it is the Saudis they can probably change it back, too. Except they probably remember when their king was killed by his nephew home from the USA, that a lot of Saudis thought was due to CIA mind-control. They can’t just do anything they want regardless what the US government wants them to do. Or they probably think they can’t.

More importantly, the belief in the importance of the alliance is shared by people who think that US policy should support high oil prices, those who want low oil prices and those who favor some ill-defined notion of stability [and among critics, imputing one or more of these motives]. On the other side of the equation, the Saudis have sometimes held the price up, sometimes pushed it down, sometimes promoted stability and sometimes volatility, with no apparent regard to the desires of their US protectors.

I’m not saying you’re wrong, but given that we have all these conflicting factions who want the Saudis to do different things, how do you know it’s the Saudis who’re so changeable?

A puppet cuts his strings and does the different dances on his own when he wants to.

Another puppet has multiple puppeteers grabbing the controls from each other making him do different dances at random.

How do you tell which is which?

58

LFC 01.28.15 at 4:40 pm

novakant 44
even if the US was completely self-sufficient with regards to energy it would still want and need to control as much of the flow of natural resources around the world as it can.

Imo, the US interest as formulated by the FPE (which I prefer as an acronym to JQ’s FPC) is less in controlling the flow of natural resources everywhere (impossible, anyway) and more in keeping sea lanes open and ensuring to at least some extent its continuing “command of the commons” (B. Posen’s phrase from an article of a long time ago). If one looks at the complicated politics of oil-pipeline placement in SW and central Asia, for ex., my guess — and it’s purely a guess, cd be wrong — is that while some of it is of keen interest to the US, much of it is a matter of relative indifference.

59

LFC 01.28.15 at 4:50 pm

Ronan 55
I don’t know if arms sales explain the US relationship with Saudi, or at least if they explain that much.
I don’t know whether this comment was directed at me, but I wasn’t suggesting that arms sales themselves explained anything about the relationship; I was suggesting that *if* the US wanted to use that (ie cutoff of arms sales) as leverage on human rts (which it shows no evidence afaik of wanting to do), it might not be that effective.

60

LFC 01.28.15 at 4:54 pm

reason
I googled it, Gary Sick is a real name.

Indeed a well-known name to a lot of those who follow US fp (even w less than extremely close attention).

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geo 01.28.15 at 4:56 pm

JQ: As novakant suggests @44, and as I’ve suggested in the past, your conception of “rational self-interest” may be a bit too narrow to allow for an adequate explanation of US foreign policy.

62

LFC 01.28.15 at 5:20 pm

Ronan 55
The US /Saudi relationship is decades old and is embedded in an alliance system and set of regional priorities that cant be dismantled over night, backed up by a significant set of interests (material and institutional) committed to maintaining it. The US/Saudi relationship exists as a complicated set of historical guarantees…

The ‘guarantees’ are informal, aren’t they, at least as compared to, say, the U.S.-Japan security treaty?

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Ronan(rf) 01.28.15 at 6:20 pm

LFC – afaik you’re right, but dont know the specifics well enough to know how explicit they have been at different points in the past, or what it meant at a practical level.

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rea 01.28.15 at 7:15 pm

You might make a better case that the US is a Saudi client state than the other way around.

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Cassander 01.28.15 at 8:22 pm

So Abdullah inherited a state with zero democracy, ruled it for life, and left it with zero democracy. Chavez inherited a state with some amount of democracy, ruled it for life, and left it with much less democracy than he found, wrecking the economy in the process. So yeah, I feel very comfortable saying Chavez deserves more opprobrium.

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js. 01.28.15 at 8:36 pm

Also, the whole “The US tried to overthrow him!!!!” bit…

I suppose this is directed at me. Well, the paraphrase is unfortunate: what I said was that the U.S. helped fund the coup. And perhaps you could object to that formulation. What is well-documented though is that the U.S. funded the opposition that undertook the coup, and it provided political support and cover for the coup (here). Why you think any of this denies agency to actors in Latin America remains obscure.

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Corey Robin 01.28.15 at 9:09 pm

Cassander: “So Abdullah inherited a state with zero democracy, ruled it for life, and left it with zero democracy. Chavez inherited a state with some amount of democracy, ruled it for life, and left it with much less democracy than he found, wrecking the economy in the process. So yeah, I feel very comfortable saying Chavez deserves more opprobrium.”

Abdullah ruled a country where in the last year of his reign alone the state beheaded at least 87 people. Chavez was elected by the Venezuelan people multiple times in a system described by Jimmy Carter, whose center is considered the gold standard of election monitoring, as follows: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

What you meant to say is that you feel very comfortable defending the sadism of the Saudi state.

68

bi-state curious 01.28.15 at 9:32 pm

Human Rights Watch: “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled”

Read the whole thing.

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Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.28.15 at 9:42 pm

And of course, the only measure of democracy is elections, right?

Small stuff like, I dont know, stuffing the election boards with party members, or punishing severely any judge that dont deliver the judgement they want, or the use of gangs of supporters to terrorize opposition rallies, or compiling lists of people that are to be discriminated every time they need an official paperwork to punish them for signing a revokation petition (that the chavistas included in the constitution!)…

I’m not comfortable defending the Saudi state. I’m a bit uncomfortable about how people end up defending the Venezuelan revolution, which seems to be the other side of the coin in this kind of exercise.

70

Leo Casey 01.28.15 at 9:48 pm

Corey:
Chavez was elected by the Venezuelan people multiple times in a system described by Jimmy Carter, whose center is considered the gold standard of election monitoring, as follows: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

I don’t know who sees Jimmy Carter as a gold standard on questions of free elections, democracy and human rights. I certainly don’t.

That said, Wikipedia provides an account somewhat at odds with yout quote:
Carter observed the Venezuela recall elections on August 15, 2004. European Union observers had declined to participate, saying too many restrictions were put on them by the Hugo Chávez administration. A record number of voters turned out to defeat the recall attempt with a 59 percent “no” vote. The Carter Center stated that the process “suffered from numerous irregularities,” but said it did not observe or receive “evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the vote.”

More importantly, every international organization of any note that addresses questions of human rights, freedom of expression and press, and labor rights — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (the international federation of journalist unions), the ILO, the Latin American Organizacion Regional Interamericanca de Trabajadores (ORIT), and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) — have published reports quite critical of the Chavez regime on all those counts.

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cassander 01.28.15 at 10:26 pm

>Abdullah ruled a country where in the last year of his reign alone the state beheaded at least 87 people.

I wasn’t aware that “number of judicial executions” was popular measure of, well, anything besides the number of judicial executions. And the sadism of the Venezuelan state is also pretty profound these days, at least according to Amnesty International.

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Collin Street 01.28.15 at 10:33 pm

> And of course, the only measure of democracy is elections, right?

The OP wasn’t a comparison of venezuela to saudi arabia. The OP was a comparison of comments on venezuela to comments on saudi arabia, and it’s drawing conclusions not about the morality of Chavez but about the morality and perspective of the people commentating on Chavez and Saudi arabia.

I think it’s a given that Venezuela is less bad than Saudi Arabia. We’re talking “Franco is not as crazy as Hitler”, here, to be sure, but there’s a real difference: I don’t know how badly you suffered, but I don’t think your’s driving lessons were done in fear that her head would be cut off by informal catholic militias or anything of that sort.

The comments quoted in the OP, in being harsher on Chavez than Saudi, don’t reflect that. Either out of malice or stupidity they don’t accurately represent the situation, and that malice/stupidity is something that we’re going to have to keep in mind when we evaluate what those commentators say in future. Venezuela / Arabia is the context and the evidence, not the conclusion.

[tldr: it’s not about hugo chavez, it’s about human rights watch. ]

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Matt 01.28.15 at 10:33 pm

Interesting, the people in this thread who are so sure that the implied message of the original comparison was “Venezuela’s rulers should be criticized less” rather than “Saudi Arabia’s rulers should be criticized more.” I endorse the second interpretation.

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js. 01.28.15 at 11:13 pm

But seriously, the lovefest in the U.S. press re Abdullah has been fucking disgusting. I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t think I expected this. And would’ve really expected better from HRW.

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John Quiggin 01.28.15 at 11:29 pm

Agree strongly with P O’Neill on al-Sisi

And with Ronan; the US is embedded in a system of alliances which has built up a set of interests (notably in the military-industrial complex) committed to maintaining it. But also, it has created a collective complex of beliefs that
(a) what happens in the Middle East is vital to the rest of the world, and the US in particular
(b) that the US should guide events there, and has some coherent idea of how it should do so
(c) that the US can in fact exert substantial control over events in the ME

All of these are delusions.
(a) Middle Eastern oil is part of the supply of one commodity that is no more important than others. In other respects, the ME is only important because decades of past interference have made it a source of hostility – getting out and staying out is the only way to fix this

(b) With the exception of unqualified support for the Israeli government, there is nothing constant or coherent in US policy towards the region, because there is no underlying interest to be served. In particular, as I said, the FPE doesn’t even know if it wants oil to be cheap or dear.

(c) The US is very effective at destroying governments in the region, and quite effective in sustaining dictatorships long enough to build up a deep reservoir of hatred when they eventually collapse. Otherwise, every project they have pursued has ended in failure. In particular, this is true of attempts to improve the situation in Israel-Palestine. If the US withdrew altogether, nothing would change there. Israel would remain militarily secure and the Palestinians would still be oppressed.

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LFC 01.28.15 at 11:33 pm

@js.
The NewsHour segment I mentioned above, with G. Sick, had as the other interviewee/guest the deputy director (I think is his title) of HRW, and he was strongly critical of the Saudi regime on human rights (though I don’t recall that he
was asked specifically what he thought of Abdullah, his general view of S.A. was very clear). Fwiw…

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LFC 01.28.15 at 11:41 pm

Moreover, if you click on the link in the OP to the Human Rts Watch twitter feed on this, which I just did, the first sentence (paraphrasing) is: Abdullah’s regime saw marginal advances for women, but failed to secure for Saudis basic rts to freedom of expression, association, etc. That doesn’t exactly sound like HRW is praising Abdullah…

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basil 01.28.15 at 11:52 pm

This made me think about Negri’s formulation that NGOs are the mendicant orders of Empire.

In defining what passes for a democracy or what electoral systems we could justly denounce, we may reflect on the nature of democracy in our own countries, including the state of the media – what ideas are allowed on the table, the regulation of formal party politics – who is allowed to participate and the ways in which we give meaning to the equality ideal.

All states are repressive. The different technologies by which they achieve their ends, what sorts of lives we imagine valuable and our ideological biases guide our preferences. Swiss violence and its dead bodies – completely invisible.

Still, and even in a pretty bad neighbourhood, it is difficult to imagine a worse place than Saudi Arabia. As the House of Saud doesn’t pay the slightest attention to notions like equality or democracy, it really is difficult to see how anyone prefers that – no matter what reforms it has attempted – to any other system. I cannot think of any non-conflict governance system that is as brutal *by law*. A discussion about Saudi Arabia isn’t even about consequences – intended or not – it is about sanctioned, widespread malevolence.

As an aside, I find intriguing Venezuela’s Communal Councils, its land reform programme and other Latin American experimentation about giving democracy and equality greater meaning. I am persuaded that in a part of the world with such a long history of state repression and collusion with property against the people, the experimentation of the left-inspired governments there is drawing lines in the sand behind which it will be difficult to retreat.

*A new Adam Curtis documentary, BitterLake is available on BBC iPlayer. A little long, not clear on its politics, but covers some of what this discussion’s about – particularly the US-Saudi symbiosis.

**Recent CrookedTimber discussions reveal a widely held sense of exceptionalism and implicitly claims an inferiority of other peoples. The vapour moves about in words like corruption, productivity, religion, values, etc.

***Does anyone else miss Lupita?

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soru 01.28.15 at 11:57 pm

If the US withdrew altogether, nothing would change there. Israel would remain militarily secure

The fact that remains at least plausibly true, despite Saudi Arabia’s defense budget being 4x that of Israel says a lot about where that budget currently goes…

Of course, if the USA did withdraw, they would be in a position to spend that money, or more, on real weapons, and the strategic situation would change correspondingly.

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Ronan(rf) 01.29.15 at 12:06 am

Toby Jones is quite interesting on how US oil policy and arms sales militarised and destabilised the Gulf. For anyone interested. (Although, personally, I don’t necessarily agree with it all) He has a book coming out on the topic aswell, afaik.

http://jah.oxfordjournals.org/content/99/1/208.full#xref-fn-19-1

“In particular, as I said, the FPE doesn’t even know if it wants oil to be cheap or dear.”

The line has always been that they want oil prices stable ? (although you mention that above, and the definition has always been vague)

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Ronan(rf) 01.29.15 at 12:07 am

..that should link to the whole article, rather than one reference specifically.

82

Andrew F. 01.29.15 at 12:16 am

Here’s the summary of Saudi Arabia on Human Rights Watch’s page for Saudi Arabia:

King Abdullah passed away on January 23, 2015 after a nine-and-a-half year reign and his half-brother Salman bin Abdulaziz became king. Saudi Arabia has pressed on with arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens. Authorities continued to violate the rights of Saudi women and girls and foreign workers. Courts convicted human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.

And here is the quite balanced, and still fiercely critical, HRW assessment of Adullah’s human rights record.

Here is HRW’s assessment of Chavez’s human rights record.

HRW is critical of both leaders, but also give credit to each where it’s due. I don’t think HRW belongs in the OP.

As to differences in their relationships with the USG, Chavez allied himself with Castro and Ahmadinejad, was actively engaged in aiding FARC, and generally did what he could to cause problems for the USG. He also, without doubt, did undermine progress in Venezuela towards better rule of law and freedom of the press, among other things.

By contrast, Abdullah has largely worked with the USG on foreign policy matters (counterterrorism, including financing flowing from SA, among other things), and did act to reduce the influence of religious extremists (nb extremist by Western standards) over KSA foreign and domestic policy. Obviously, Abdullah’s domestic reforms had to be constrained by reality, and ultimately the USG cares much more about KSA’s actions as they affect the US than about KSA’s actions as they affect the population of SA.

Abdullah and Chavez came to power in two very different contexts, and faced very different challenges and opportunities. It’s difficult to compare them as leaders, but it’s not difficult to understand why the USG is more favorably inclined towards Abdullah than Chavez.

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Roger Gathmann 01.29.15 at 12:32 am

I disagree with John Quiggins about this:” there is nothing constant or coherent in US policy towards the region, because there is no underlying interest to be served.”

In my opinion, interests aren’t like stocks, being daily priced and assessed. Rather, political interests at time x become, over time, a legacy defining what political interest is at time y. I think that we have very coherently supported saudi arabia since the sixties. In fact, the current war in Syria is almost the carbon copy of the attacks on the Assad regime supported by the Saudis in the 70s (when it was the Moslem League that was doing it) and by Israel. It is almost the same reason on the Saudis part today – to destroy a Shi’ite government, as it sees it – and the same ideologies are at play. One could go back to the sixties and the US and British support for the Saudi side in Yeman. It is much more consistent than our policy in, say, Asia. But just because the first comittment was made in terms of self interest (broadly including opposing communism) doesn’t mean each new form of comittment, each renewal of the alliance, revises and reacts to our current self interest. This is an economic model of action which I think is almost universally falsified by real action, for the good reason that it would make it almost impossible for an institution or state to act. Since the US has been allied for so long to the Saudis, I think American policymakers instinctively include the Saudis in their view of self-interest in the middle east – in the same way that the establishment press, when King Abdullah died, automaticaly terms him a moderate, a man of peace, a modernizer, etc. It wasn’t that he was, or even that the media thought hard about it – he was by definition a man of peace because he was on “our” side.
It is for this reason that one must be subtle in using self-interest as a term of analysis. There’s inertia, there’s the unwillingness to revisit what is in one’s self interest, there are alliances among power players that the players are uncomfortable about unraveling, there is the self-interest of rulers and media people and think tankers in not being targeted as dupes or instruments against our self interest if it turns out that, say, the Saudis were consciously financing bits of osama’s organization, etc. etc.

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Donald Johnson 01.29.15 at 12:59 am

One of the extremely rare occasions where I agree with AndrewF about something–if you read HRW reports on human rights in Saudi Arabia, they seem critical. Don’t judge the content by the headline. I don’t know why Roth sounded like a suckup, though maybe it’s got something to do with fundraising.

The rest of Andrew F’s post seemed consistent with criticism of US support for Saudi Arabia–Andrew merely gave the sort of reasoning that may underly that support.

On Chavez, without wanting to defend Chavez’s record, are we supposed to believe that Venezuela was some sort of liberal paradise when the upper classes were more firmly in control?

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shah8 01.29.15 at 1:00 am

Echoing Roger Gathmann@83, towards the end, the central problem with US FP ->Venezuela is essentially a nostalgia for the players and opinions in Venezuela that they know and identify with, rather than develop an Atlanticist Venezuelan newcomer that might substantially appeal to wide swaths of Venezuelan citizens. Even now, all of the players are still counting on regime unpopularity to allow the preferred segment of the loose MUD to win by default. We already see from US state governor’s elections last November that this does not work. I had definitely been noodling the idea of Chavez as a sort of Willie Brandt, whose ultimate unpopularity with certain people derived from a well developed foreign policy. Instead of channeling a Venezuelan Schmidt as a bridge to the more comfortably conformist Kohl, the FP insiders would rather mourn the equivalent of the old parties (especially Copei) represented by the CDU of Adenour and Erhard and try to revive that particular powerbase. Over and over and over again.

86

John Quiggin 01.29.15 at 1:34 am

Roger Gathman: I think we are in furious agreement. Obviously, the history of US involvement in the ME has produced all kinds of entanglements, presumptions and so on, as well as a small industry of experts and so on. It makes sense for these people not to question the fundamental assumptions and to discourage others from doing so. But that is true of any long-established policy.

My point is that US policy can’t be explained coherently in the terms of the national interest of the US, of the US ruling class as a whole, of US capitalists or even of fractions of US capital such as the financial sector or US oil companies.

It is what it is because it is.

87

Layman 01.29.15 at 1:59 am

Leo Casey @ 70

I don’t really see how a quote about the Venezuelan elections of 2004 can be said to be at odds with a quote about the Venezuelan elections of 1992, since the quotes are about two different things, but never mind. Since you don’t like the Carter Center as an authority on elections (wait, why are you quoting them?), you should instead propose some other authority on elections, and contrast what they say about elections in Venezuela with what they say about elections in Saudi Arabia. I warn you: this is a trick question.

88

LFC 01.29.15 at 2:06 am

engels @16 linked to a quote from Ken Roth of HRW, but he left off the 2nd sentence in the quote at the link:

“For all its faults, the U.S. government remains the most powerful proponent of human rights, and the Human Rights Watch base in the United States gives the organization special access to Washington. But much of the world is rightly suspicious of the U.S. government’s agenda, so Human Rights Watch is careful to maintain our independence from U.S. foreign policy (we regularly report on and criticize it) and to establish offices and working relationships in other key and emerging global capitals.

89

Andrew F. 01.29.15 at 2:11 am

LFC made the same points re HRW, with additional support, at 76 and 77.

Re John Quiggin @75: In other respects, the ME is only important because decades of past interference have made it a source of hostility – getting out and staying out is the only way to fix this

If “getting out” of that region means closing all US bases, stopping all US aid, and essentially proclaiming to the world: we no longer care what happens here – then I do not think the consequences will be good for anyone, nor do I think those consequences would allow us to long remain outside.

90

Layman 01.29.15 at 2:16 am

Cassander @ 65

” Chavez inherited a state with some amount of democracy, ruled it for life, and left it with much less democracy than he found, wrecking the economy in the process.”

Whether he wrecked the economy or not seems to depend on whether you’re a poor Venezuelan, or a rich one. Heck, even Bloomberg can see that mostVenezuelans seem to have been dramatically better off under his tenure. And, it has to be said that what difficulties there are in the Venezuelan economy were triggered by the coup attempt and the ensuing year of moneyed opposition to Chavez’s government.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-07/venezuelans-quality-of-life-improved-in-un-index-under-chavez

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LFC 01.29.15 at 2:16 am

soru @79
the “strategic situation” wouldn’t necessarily change if the US spent more on (unspecified) weapons (on which it already spends an arguably unconscionably large amt). I realize this isn’t LGM, where R. Farley and the coterie of weaponry commenters hang out, but even here I don’t think this kind of rather vague statement will fly.

92

js. 01.29.15 at 2:29 am

LFC @77, etc.:

That’s fair. And I suppose HRW being what it is, their communiqués have to make the right kinds of noises. There’s still something risible about soft-pedaling what’s likely the second-most repulsive regime in the world (leaving aside states that are in more-or-less total breakdown).

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geo 01.29.15 at 2:33 am

JQ @75: Quoted below is what still seems to me a reasonable analysis of US foreign policy in the Middle East, though written forty years ago. (Chomsky, Middle East Illusions, pp. 3ff.) Would you comment?

“[In the mid-1940s] Secretary of State Hull emphasized that ‘there should be full realization of the fact that the oil of Saudi Arabia constitutes one of the world’s greatest prizes.’ During and after World War II, the United States took over the dominant role in controlling these resources, displacing Great Britain, and their value for the industrial societies has never been greater than it is today. We may assume, with fair confidence, that the United States will make every effort to ensure that this great prize will be available, and to the extent possible, under the control of American oil companies.

“… It has been suggested that the United States should undertake ‘the relatively minor adjustment we would be obliged to make in order to get along without Arab oil’ and become self-sufficient in energy supplies, so that American policy for the region will be immune to any pressures from the Arab states. Such proposals are virtually irrelevant to the formation of state policy. The problem is not merely access to Middle Eastern oil, but also the profits of major American corporations, not only the giant oil companies, but also others that are looking forward to vast investment opportunities in the Middle East. Wile the United States might reach self-sufficiency, Europe and Japan, for the foreseeable future, cannot. In one way or another, they will obtain access to the petroleum reserves of the Middle East, vast in quantity and lower in production cost than alternatives currently available. The result could be that US industry, already barely competitive, would be priced out of world markets. The industrial systems of Europe and Japan, with independent resources of energy and raw materials, might surpass the United States in scale and productivity. It is hardly likely that the US government will tolerate such prospects with equanimity.

“If the Arab oil producers persist in some form of the current [1975] oil politics, then serious conflict is likely within the capitalist world system. The United States will insist on a ‘united front,’ which it can control. Its industrial competitors will continue to seek bilateral arrangements with the oil producers or perhaps will also move to coordinated efforts of their own. The real issues are clouded by rhetoric about ‘greed’ and ‘cowardice.’ At the heart of the matter, however, are some quite substantial questions: Will the United States and US-based multinational corporations continue to dominate the capitalist world system? Will the major oil companies be able to amass sufficient profits in the final period of petroleum-based energy to ensure their domination of the next phase (coal, nuclear energy)?

“In the world of business and finance, there is now much concern that the European states and Japan are making ‘slow, but apparently inexorable, government inroads into the oil business,’ and that ‘national governments are even now beginning to negotiate direct deals with oil-producing countries.’ ‘A rush of such deals is under way, with Japan, France, Britain, West Germany, and Italy either having signed, or still negotiating, the sale of arms, factories, and know-how to Iran and the Arab states, in exchange for pledges of future oil,’ a bilateral approach that is ‘decried by [US energy chief] Simon.’ Business Week warns that ‘Americans may be left behind in the stampede for Arab business,’ quite apart from the ‘multibillion-dollar US stake in oil,’ if there is a backlash of Arab hostility toward the US’; ‘European and Japanese governments and private businessmen are practically falling over each other in a scramble to ingratiate themselves with Arab oil suppliers.’ During the October 1973 war, Iraq awarded contracts totaling $260 million to European and Japanese groups, while continuing extensive American projects. It is feared that European and Japanese competitors may be preferred to US bidders for further development projects. In Egypt and other Arab states, American corporations continued their projects and negotiations throughout the October 1973 crisis, but the issue remains in doubt throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“The basic issues have been raised with particular clarity in the context of US-Japanese relations. After World War II, the United States permitted Japan to industrialize with few constraints, while maintaining fairly tight control over Japanese energy resources. Well aware of these facts and their implications, the Arab oil producers are offering special inducements to make bilateral arrangements for Middle East oil. The Saudi Arabian oil minister put the matter clearly on a visit to Japan: ‘For the time being, the American oil companies are dominating about 70 percent of the oil industry in the whole world. Whether you have an interest in this as Japanese or you don’t, that is your decision. … You do need oil. Oil will be in scarcity very soon, in the coming few years, and therefore you can get much more than the others … bilaterally. Now what you will have with us is oil as a quid pro quo for what you give — that’s industry and technology.’

“The Japanese Trade Ministry had already announced plans for extensive technical development projects in Libya, with the possibility of joint ventures in oil exploration. These steps raised ‘the possibility of Japan’s moving in, in partnership with the Arabs, to occupy the oil-development position long monopolized by the Western majors. Until now Japan has shied away from such a move for fear of offending both the Western majors and the US government.’

“As Sheikh Yamani pointed out further in Tokyo, there is an implied further cost in bilateral arrangements: ‘a less close relationship with the US — and especially with the American oil companies.’ The cost could be serious, not only to Japan, but to US-based
corporations and the American government.

“The long-range significance of independent European and Japanese initiatives is potentially very great, and there is little doubt that the US government will be concerned to forestall them. The major oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Japan in particular, would doubtless prefer to remain in the American orbit, and can be expected to be cooperative if certain conditions are met. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it is unclear
just what these conditions are … [perhaps] a return of Jerusalem to Arab rule and a regional settlement … along the lines of UN resolutions. It is not yet clear what he intends, or whether the United States would be willing to accept such demands. It is, however, most unlikely that the United States will simply tell the Arabs to keep their oil, as [George] Kennan and others recommend. Rather, the United States will move to guarantee its access to, and control over, ‘one of the world’s great prizes,’ insofar as this is possible.”

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cassander 01.29.15 at 2:45 am

>I think it’s a given that Venezuela is less bad than Saudi Arabia.

This is not the relevant comparison. Abdullah did not make Saudi Arabia worse, Chavez did make Venezuela worse. Ergo, it is far from unreasonable to make worse statements about Chavez, because he actively made the world worse.

95

cassander 01.29.15 at 2:53 am

@layman

>Heck, even Bloomberg can see that mostVenezuelans seem to have been dramatically better off under his tenure.

No one dispute that you can make your poor temporarily richer (and buy their votes) by giving them the money you used to use to maintain your oil wells. But plenty of people spent years (including many right hear at CT) claiming that Chavez was doing more than that, and that this time, things would be different. Those of us that predicted exactly what is currently happening, of course, were accused of hating poor people. The script is sad, but predictable, and I have no doubt that in a few years, we’ll have to run through the whole thing again.

> And, it has to be said that what difficulties there are in the Venezuelan economy were triggered by the coup attempt and the ensuing year of moneyed opposition to Chavez’s government.

No it doesn’t. This assertion is absurd. A coup a decade in the past is not causing toilet paper shortages and currency crises today.

96

Layman 01.29.15 at 3:23 am

Cassander @ 94, your objection merely says that you prefer poorly run governments that benefit the rich over poorly run governments that benefit the poor; which is hardly a startling revelation. Is the average Venezuelan better off economically as a result of Chavez? Yes, you say, but it doesn’t count, because some wealthy people were annoyed.

Also, it’s pretty clear that Chavez isn’t causing toilet paper shortages or currency crises today, what with being dead and buried. You’ll say he caused it with what he did before he died, but that’s a claim that economic problems today can result from past actions, which you just rejected as absurd. You’ll be left arguing about about how far back one can go to find root causes, and where one can draw arbitrary limits – hardly a strong position to take.

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John Quiggin 01.29.15 at 4:00 am

@92 Happy to comment. The underlying premise is that the US could, by virtue of its ME policy, get oil cheaper than its rivals in Europe and Japan, thereby maintaining its industrial supremacy.

AFAIK, no such benefit has ever been realised. The US has paid the same world price as everyone else, regardless of the ownership of the companies that have provided services to ME governments. That was even true of Iraq, where the US spent $3 trillion enough to buy 10 year’s worth of the country’s oil output outright.

Moreover, the use of oil as a major input to industry has almost disappeared. Oil is used for transport fuel and little else. Thanks to low taxes, the US has the cheapest transport fuel in the developed world, but that hasn’t prevented the loss of most of the kinds of manufacturing industry that used to depend on oil.

Restating this point, if cheap oil were the basis of a sensible industry policy, direct subsidies would be a much more cost-effective approach than massive military expenditures.

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geo 01.29.15 at 4:05 am

@96: Interesting. I didn’t think that was the premise of the analysis at all. I thought the premise was that the US believes itself to have a vital interest, for geopolitical reasons, in controlling its industrial rivals’ access to energy resources, as well as in maintaining the exorbitant profits of its energy industry.

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John Quiggin 01.29.15 at 4:14 am

“controlling its industrial rivals’ access to energy resources” Can you spell out what this means, if not that those rivals might find oil more costly/difficult to obtain than the US?

“as well as in maintaining the exorbitant profits of its energy industry.” How does this work? The oil revenues went to the ME governments, not to the companies they had long since expropriated. The result of high prices was to reduce consumption of oil, and therefore the revenue of companies engaged in turning it into gasoline and other products.

And, as I’ve pointed out, there’s a total absence of any consistency in the claims being made here. If the Saudis push the price of oil up, that’s a conspiracy by the US to harm its rivals and support the domestic oil industry. If they hold it down, that’s a conspiracy to get cheap oil for US industry. If they do nothing, that’s the US, as global hegemon, working to maintain stability.

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js. 01.29.15 at 4:22 am

I don’t really get what the conflict is between geo’s position (channeling Chomsky) and JQ’s. Surely geo’s “believes itself to have a vital interest” can be reconciled with JQ’s “doesn’t actually have a vital interest” (paraphrasing). And there’s an interesting thing about Chomsky in this regard (who I like and wouldn’t ever summarily dismiss)—but NC tends to rely on the pronouncements of the establishment, reading them against the grain, but in an important sense taking them at face value. If you think, as JQ seems to (and I’m inclined to agree) that the establishment’s conception of national or vital interests is seriously mistaken/delusional, then the Chomsky method won’t deliver the desired result. (Tho just as likely, I’m missing something.)

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js. 01.29.15 at 4:25 am

And apologies to JQ if I’m misstating his position.

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John Quiggin 01.29.15 at 4:48 am

js, that’s exactly my view

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geo 01.29.15 at 4:51 am

I assume “control” of oil means the ability to deny other nations access to it in case of conflict or even serious rivalry with them, whether by financial, diplomatic, or military means. When oil was thought to be a scarce resource (ie, until very recently), wouldn’t this have seemed a perfectly plausible goal?

Why wouldn’t American influence in the region affect the supply, if not the price, of oil to American companies? And why did the Japanese and European efforts to seek independent supplies, mentioned in the above passage, disturb American officials and the business press?

When did oil disappear as a major input to industry? (Not skeptical, just curious.)

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Collin Street 01.29.15 at 4:59 am

> Restating this point, if cheap oil were the basis of a sensible industry policy,

Path dependency, or to be more explicit the US had a big group of kleptocrat oilmen a while back the social structures and understandings they promoted are still there.

If Standard Oil had sold woollen socks it’d be Abbott they’d be giving the planes to.

Is what I think’s happening here.

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geo 01.29.15 at 5:07 am

js: The “desired result” (Chomsky’s and, I would think, ours here) is to discover the purposes of American foreign policy. The beliefs of policymakers are clearly pretty relevant to doing this, whether or not they’re delusional. I would certainly rather see JQ making American foreign policy than Cordell Hull or George Kennan or Dick Cheney (or me). But there’s no denying that a persistent and fundamental assumption of American foreign policy has been that the use or threat of military force can affect the international economy, and in particular enrich those strata of the investor class that have the most influence over policy. Whether they would have served their masters better if they had been more sophisticated economic analysts is an interesting question, but not very interesting. The main thing to recognize, I’d say, in arguing about the rationality of American foreign policy is that policymakers do not consider the national interest, and in fact only use the phrase for propaganda purposes.

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John Quiggin 01.29.15 at 5:26 am

OK, maybe we can reach agreement on this

The FPE, backed up by most of the political class generally, and much of the general public believes that the US can and should control events in the Middle East because of vital interests there.

This belief persists despite the fact that
(a) (Except regarding Israel) the FPE has no coherent idea of what, or whose, these vital interests might be
(b) Attempts by the US to control ME events have been uniformly unsuccessful at least since the fall of the Shah in 1979 (the apparent victory in the First Gulf War paved the way both for the disastrous second war and the rise of Al Qaeda)

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cassander 01.29.15 at 5:50 am

@layman

> your objection merely says that you prefer poorly run governments that benefit the rich over poorly run governments that benefit the poor; which is hardly a startling revelation. Is the average Venezuelan better off economically as a result of Chavez? Yes, you say, but it doesn’t count, because some wealthy people were annoyed.

just, wow. Rarely have I seen such a stark example of arguing in bad faith. did you even read what I wrote? The average Venezuelan is not better off than before Chavez. A few years boost in poverty statistics was bought at the price of destruction of infrastructure that will take years, if not decades, to repair. My objection to Chavez is not that he irritated the rich, but that he doomed his poor. Are you really incapable of reaching past the belief that everyone to your right hates the poor and wants them to suffer?

>Also, it’s pretty clear that Chavez isn’t causing toilet paper shortages or currency crises today, what with being dead and buried.

Really? The post Chavez government repealed all the laws he passed and magically undid the damage he did to the country’s oil infrastructure? Because unless it did, Chavez is most definitely causing harm from the grave.

> but that’s a claim that economic problems today can result from past actions, which you just rejected as absurd.

No, I rejected your specific claim as absurd. Unless you have a plausible theory for how a decade passed coup made Chavez choose economic policies that you, at least people like you, have spent most of the last decade applauding.

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geo 01.29.15 at 5:54 am

“Uniformly unsuccessful”? The goal of American policy in the ME has been to thwart radical Arab nationalism, which they feared would unify the region, refuse an American military presence (possibly even allow a Soviet presence), control access to oil, and achieve successful independent state-led economic development. I’d say Sadat, Mubarak, Sadaam, relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the containment (via the 1981-9 war) of Iran all represented substantial successes in achieving that goal. (Which seems coherent enough to me.)

Of course there have been setbacks too, but “uniformly unsuccessful” since 1979?

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Matt 01.29.15 at 6:04 am

When did oil disappear as a major input to industry?

The golden age of oil in industrial applications was really short. It started after 1940 and ended before 1980. Before 1940 coal was the default choice for supplying process heat or chemical feedstocks. After 1980 electricity and natural gas were the default choices. There was also some reversion to coal in chemical manufacturing. China, which is short of both oil and gas, has invested tremendously in the past decade in projects to produce chemicals from coal that were formerly made from natural gas.

I would say the end of the golden industrial oil age began with the first Oil Shock in 1973 and was largely completed 20 years later. Synthetic fertilizer production switched to natural gas. Mining equipment was electrified. Processes that needed intense heat switched to natural gas or electric heating. Oil’s role in producing electricity shrank dramatically.

The reason oil was industrially ascendant in the first place was that it was cheap. In the 1950s, when it gained dominance over a coal as an input for chemical manufacturing, it was cheaper largely because it was easier to handle and purify. Switching to oil-based processes reduced system costs even though oil was more expensive than coal per tonne. In the late 1960s when oil was really cheap, it was just the default low-cost option in a lot of cases. It’s hard to remember now, but it was so cheap that it looked like a good idea to build oil-fired plants to produce electricity, even in places like France that had very little domestic oil. Of course a few years later these plants became stranded investments when the oil price shot up. France switched to mostly nuclear power; most developed nations did the replacement with a combination of nuclear power, coal, and natural gas.

Nowadays pretty much only petrostates and islands generate a lot of electricity from oil. Oh, and Pakistan, which made a very France-circa-1968 mistake of building oil fired power plants in the late 1990s. And South Africa, which delayed investment in ordinary baseload plants so long and so badly that they are now running diesel turbine generators intended for rare peak loads almost every day.

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basil 01.29.15 at 6:44 am

What about abstracting these interests to a general maintenance of stability/ direction of flows that yields greater profits? Given the interconnectedness of the international economy and its increasing domination by corporations with no loyalty to flag or territory, we might want to think beyond narrow state interests.

Think BAE Systems, Al Yamamah, Mark Thatcher, Tony Blair, the SFO and flags at half-mast for Abdullah.

Thinking about petrodollars and the wider pool of money sloshing around looking for a home, we might ask what does money want? Given competing ambitions – some money wants destruction contracts – warheads, fighter jets – some money wants to bet on instability, some money wants reconstruction contracts or to build pipelines and refineries, other money wants to use the offer of reliable energy supply to India to get something in return and if China doesn’t have a stable supply of oil the global economy gets more than a tummy ache, etc. So some money gets to work to bend politics and media and open doors.

The highest shareholder in CitiGroup, who is also News Corp’s second largest shareholder is a Saudi royal. I don’t know that he minds FoxNews and he also has money in Twitter. Qatar Investment Authority buys a stake in Shell and a football club in Paris. Mubadala buys a stake in Barclays and starts a regeneration project in Manchester. Maybe some day soon BinLadin Group builds the Kingdom Tower, Carlyle buys a stake in them and the petrodollars slosh about some more.

I don’t know.

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basil 01.29.15 at 6:56 am

… by which I mean that those corporations that lobby the US state to exert itself on their behalf will find themselves, on the whole, to be lobbying on behalf of money, regardless of what little islands corporate flags are pushed into. See also TTIP.

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Zamfir 01.29.15 at 7:11 am

“as well as in maintaining the exorbitant profits of its energy industry.” How does this work? The oil revenues went to the ME governments, not to the companies they had long since expropriated.
Basically, if you’re in the oil industry doing business with the midde east, your nationality matters. In Saudi Arabia, the gulf states, Kuwait, there is a preference to buy from the US, with diminishing preference if your country gets further away from the US. It’s not iron-hard, but you have to offer lower prices to get the same contract. Or there whas to be a temporary political wave in your favour. I’ve heard similar stories, stronger even, from the weapons industry.

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Zamfir 01.29.15 at 7:35 am

Addition: I don’t think these fatter profits ar THE single reason for US policy in the middle east. It’s just one example how high-level, somewhat fuzzy influence can turn into tangible benefits. And how every example builds a larger constituency in Washington of people who like the current situation.

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Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.29.15 at 7:56 am

#95 Given the content of your post this is probably wasting time, but

– On the “run for the poor” and all the wonderful benefits of the chavista revolution for the dispossesed, check the latest report by the CEPAL about Latin American economies. The only one where poverty is growing and fast, is Venezuela.

– And before you go with the Maduro defense, there has been absolutely no change, no reform, no big switch in direction, absolutely anything but a continuation of the same policies under Chávez.

The whole rethorical trick that “we are for the poor, so anybody that opposes us is for the rich” was exactly what was used to silence anybody that pointed out that, while there where improvements in some of the poverty related statistics, they where all achieved in a way that was absolutely dependent on high oil prices, and even unsustainable with those on the long run. And now it has come to pass.

Again, not much hope you are not going to keep saying all that means I’m really rooting for the Venezuelan 1%. Have the same knee-jerk reaction discussing with some Venezuelan right-wing people when trying to explain that whatever post-chavista government gets to power, it will have to focus on the poor for it to be successful.

Thats what you get when you dont like to keep to the trenches, I guess.

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Ze Kraggash 01.29.15 at 8:16 am

geo 107 “The goal of American policy in the ME has been to thwart radical Arab nationalism, which they feared would unify the region”

Not just radical, and not just nationalism – any unifying pattern. Nasser’s/Baath politics was, after all, predominantly of secular socialism. The obvious move to counter and defeat it (as a unifying force) was to keep inflaming sectarian tensions. And so here we are.

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Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.29.15 at 8:28 am

#84 Venezuela has been going downhill from the heydays of the 70’s (the first oil boom and the first one to be managed in a spend-it-all-we-are-rich fashion there). But Chávez and his pals put several new ways of degeneration into the situation.

No, it was not perfect, it was in fact a very corrupt country (that has not changed, btw. Another success of the revolution). But for comparision, just in one bit…

When I was a kid, there where more or less regular protest around the Universidad Central de Venezuela, in which small groups of “encapuchados” (masked guys) coming from the university used to stop a bus, take people down, and burn it.

In the latest protests inside the UCV, groups of chavistas located the opposition protesters, beat them, and in one case, forced one of them to undress and run him out of the university.

Almost any indicator you want to look at has become worst under them, and not by accident, but by their design or ignorance.

In fact, one of the most disappointing things on the so called revolution is how non-revolutionary it has been: all the flaws, problems and mistakes of the Fourth Republic have keep running their course, either at the same pace, or even faster due to their policies.

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Walt 01.29.15 at 9:06 am

I think a much more parsimonious explanation is that there is a global elite, and the Saudi ruling class are fully paid-up members of this elite. The close relationships between the Bush family and parts of the Saudi royal family is well-documented, for example. You can make about as strong a case that the US does the bidding of Saudi Arabia as vice versa.

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novakant 01.29.15 at 11:11 am

There is also the small matter of the US being the world’s biggest arms exporter and SA being one of its biggest customers – the whole thing is even more obvious in the UK.

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soru 01.29.15 at 11:30 am

the “strategic situation” wouldn’t necessarily change if the US spent more on (unspecified) weapons (on which it already spends an arguably unconscionably large amt).

Perhaps it was excessively vague it you so radically misunderstand it.

If the US was genuinely withdrawn from the ME (i.e. budget halved, all bases gone and carrier groups scrapped; no ability to deploy anything other than light infantry further than Mexico), then the world would actually be a different place than it is.

The thing about the world being different is that things need not be the same.

In that different world, Saudi Arabia would have the option of spending its large budget on something other than overpriced weaponry that is specifically designed to lose to Israel’s military.

And if it did that, it would have the stronger army than Israel or Iran, and possibly than both together.

Perhaps another thing that would be changed would be that it was no longer a horrible country, and so wouldn’t dream of using its military dominance for some terrible purpose.

But then again, perhaps not.

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J Thomas 01.29.15 at 12:16 pm

#99 John Quiggin

And, as I’ve pointed out, there’s a total absence of any consistency in the claims being made here. If the Saudis push the price of oil up, that’s a conspiracy by the US to harm its rivals and support the domestic oil industry. If they hold it down, that’s a conspiracy to get cheap oil for US industry. If they do nothing, that’s the US, as global hegemon, working to maintain stability.

I’m generally sympathetic to your general position, but this is not a good argument. I mean, it’s an OK argument against an over-simplistic opposition argument, but not in general.

We could argue about whether the dog is wagging its tail or the tail is wagging the dog. But it doesn’t make sense to argue that the tail can’t be connected to the dog because if it was it would not wag.

About controlling oil supply, I guess we could do that if we were willing to. In theory the US Navy could stop oil tankers from going anywhere we didn’t want them to go. But I’m not sure our navy is set up for that kind of job. They might have too many other responsibilities to spare that many ships. For some purposes they would do better to just announce that it’s a dangerous thing to do and let the insurance companies stop the shipping. Similarly, we could bomb oil pipelines pretty much anywhere in the world, but it seems like we hardly ever do. Sanctions work better if oil-producing nations agree, but a lot of the time the sanctions are against middle-east nations as part of middle-east policy anyway, so that’s a wash.

I don’t know about the prices. It’s easy to say we pay the same price everybody else does, but how would we find out about kickbacks and premiums and bribes and such? It’s easy to tell what grocery store prices are — everybody in the USA pays the same price for their spam and eggs, right? — but it’s harder when it’s big-ticket negotiated items.

All in all I think it’s likely that the benefits we get from the Saudis aren’t worth what we’re paying. But then, when the Saudis fall won’t it be like the fall of China all over? We’ll have big headlines about “WHO LOST ARABIA?” and lots of uproar about how the current administration should have prevented it. Who could take over from there? Not a bunch of democratic revolutionaries. Religious fundamentalists? We’d think that was bad. Iran? Very bad. Egypt? We’d stop them. Israel? I don’t even want to go there.

When Saudi Arabia falls it will be like Iran, our paleocons will have a field month. They’ll talk like it’s the end of the world and all because of liberals. They’ll argue about invading the place, and whether to nuke somebody, and who to do covert ops against.

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Ze Kraggash 01.29.15 at 12:43 pm

“When Saudi Arabia falls “

Where is it supposed to fall? In fact, it’s not going to fall anywhere, because a quarter of the world population are Muslims, and Saudi Arabia, strictly speaking, isn’t even a real country: it’s the domain of the guardians of the two holy mosques. And they’ve been guarding them well too. The place is stable, well protected, 2-3 million people come for the hadj every year, and everything works, usually, without a hitch.

They do what they are supposed to do very well, cooperating with and paying off the US for protection, which is (currently) the price. And it doesn’t look like anything is going to change anytime soon.

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Andrew F. 01.29.15 at 1:36 pm

1 – The US FPE does not believe that it can “control” all events in the Middle East, nor, even if it could, does it believe that the cost of doing so would be worth the result. It didn’t believe that in 1979, it didn’t believe that in 1984, and it most certainly doesn’t believe that today. It is why the US is willing to work with so many different types of regimes in that region.
2 – The US FPE does believe that it can have some degree of influence over certain factors in the Middle East, but this influence is limited and those factors are not always decisive.
3 – The US FPE believes that ME strategy must rationally relate national interests to strategic goals, and that those strategic goals must be achievable at a cost and in a way that is also rational and that fits well with national interest priorities globally.

The primary interests of the US in that region are:

(a) the stable flow of oil to the global market;
(b) the reduction, destruction, and prevention of international terrorist organizations;
(c) the security of nations in the region to which the US has committed;
(d) non-proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons.

To these ends, US intermediate goals are to:

(a) prevent, and failing that, limit, inter-state war between MENA states;
(b) collect sufficient intelligence on international terrorist organizations in that region to support its counterterrorist campaigns;
(c) advise, and provide reasonable and effective amounts of pressure on, governments to begin the process of reforms that will help ensure better long-term stability.

To accomplish those intermediate goals, the US:

(a) has established military bases in key points, providing additional security to nations hosting those bases and thus reducing their fear of attack or conflict with enemies in the region;
(b) has used its leverage to ensure better cooperation with local intelligence services, enabling better intelligence;
(c) has sought to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which would have a destabilizing effect and would increase risks of proliferation (in part by encouraging other nations in the region to adopt such technology);
(d) has used its military forces to destroy assets of international terrorist organizations and to deter others from following a similar path;
(e) has encouraged other nations in the region to use their military forces, in concert, to oppose international terrorist organizations and destabilizing insurgencies.

The major inconsistency here is the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the ensuing occupation, which required expenditure and sacrifice far beyond what the strategic ends served by those operations justified. The aspirations of some of the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration, if one is to believe reports of those aspirations, also go far beyond the ordinarily quite limited US objectives, and the ordinarily modest view of US ability to influence events.

Bracket that event, and you see a fairly consistent strategic theme of limited engagement for obvious ends of national security.

And it’s a theme that continues today, and will continue in the next administration.

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TheSophist 01.29.15 at 3:32 pm

Matt @109: Thank you, that was very interesting. I sometimes joke that every day in which I learn something new is a good day; today has already made it into that category.

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LFC 01.29.15 at 4:01 pm

soru @119
I see where you’re coming from, sort of, but I’m not sure I get why S.A. is, in the current circumstances, spending on (to quote you) “overpriced weaponry that is specifically designed to lose to Israel’s military.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense for S.A. to spend on weapons designed for a conflict w Israel, since, among other things, the chances of a direct war betw Israel and S.A. seem slim. But then, I suppose there are a lot of things that don’t make sense. Or maybe I’m still not understanding the pt…

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Ronan(rf) 01.29.15 at 6:00 pm

Joel Migdal on these Qs (second podcast down)

https://soundcloud.com/search?q=joel%20migdal

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J Thomas 01.29.15 at 6:07 pm

#121 Ze Kraggash

“When Saudi Arabia falls “

Where is it supposed to fall? In fact, it’s not going to fall anywhere….

I don’t know enough about the situation to predict with any certainty, but usually things go wrong sooner or later. The USA is now one of the oldest governments in the world, probably because for most of our existence we have been blessed with a generally-apathetic population that mostly ignored politics and as a result we have had only one major revolt. Plus we have only two immediate neighbors, both of them with far weaker militaries, both of them mostly obedient.

For a long time people talked like the Shah was not going to fall. There were some people who were dissatisfied — religious fundamentalists who felt he was too secular, and a STEM elite who thought he was too undemocratic, but none of them could do anything. Then pretty quickly he was gone.

Similarly with the USSR. They didn’t look like they were falling apart. The CIA didn’t tell us they were shaky. It was a distinctly minority opinion that there was any chance of that, and then all of a sudden it had happened.

After the Saudis fall we can discuss why it was inevitable they would and why we didn’t pay attention to the signs beforehand. It’s early for that today.

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js. 01.29.15 at 8:20 pm

geo @105:

I meant “desired result” as in “desired result of the argument” (@100)—sorry, the phrasing wasn’t very clear there.

In any case, I was mostly thinking of the sort of thing JQ was saying @@75, 86, etc.—and see esp. the latter—and noting that a lot of that was compatible with a lot of what you were saying (I thought). As for the point you’re raising about national vs. other kinds of interests, I see it, and I’m not really opposed to it. On the other hand, I think you and Chomsky, etc., see the US FPE as much more clear-headed and effective actors than someone like JQ does. I think on balance the evidence favors JQ, but it’s beyond me to construct an adequate defense for that in a blog comment (or really, in any other context).

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Ronan(rf) 01.30.15 at 1:10 am

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LFC 01.30.15 at 1:19 am

I agree with Ronan @128 even though I’ve haven’t read the link yet — b.c that blogger, X. Marquez, is v. good.

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LFC 01.30.15 at 1:21 am

correction:
“I” not “I’ve”

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thehersch 01.30.15 at 2:35 am

Andrew @ 122: “The primary interests of the US in that region”

If you’re saying what the primary interests ought to be, perhaps you’re right. But if you’re talking about the actual interests that successive U.S. governments have been concerned to further, to leave out any mention of Israel–whose interests have dominated U.S. foreign policy for decades, to the detriment of both the Middle East and the American state–is way on the far side of far-fetched.

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Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.30.15 at 11:43 am

BTW, just to get you a quick view of how things are going on in “democratic” Venezuela…

http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/Autorizan-uso-armas-mortales-protestas_0_564543734.html

Translated, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino has just announced a new resolution putting public order in control of the military, authorizing the use of “potentially lethal force” in helping “avoid disorders” and “support the legitimate authority”

Guess they want to prevent another Caracazo by starting the shooting earlier.

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Andrew F. 01.31.15 at 3:50 pm

thehersch @131: I did write it very quickly and there are some things I’d clean up. The (c) intermediate goal I have down there mixes goals and means, for example. But Israel is included as a primary interest in the list, under the security of nations in the region to which the US has committed.

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