Politics and Delusion
Resolutions, Resolutions Everywhere

The media fawned over the Kellogg-Briand Pact, too, you know.

Published on: September 30, 2013
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  • WigWag

    I’m no expert but it seems to me that the breach between the United States and Saudi Arabia that President Obama has midwifed could have profound long term consequences for our country. The Saudis seem to have a particular expertise in looking out for their own interests and they don’t strike me as the sentimental types; if they can get a better deal elsewhere, won’t they drop their allegiance to the United States in a heart beat?

    Perhaps I am naïve, but it seems to me that the United States should be very circumspect before it pushes the second largest energy producer in the world (Saudi Arabia) into the arms of the largest energy producer in the world (Russia). Even with our pending energy independence, isn’t this likely to be a very bad thing?

    As space opens up between the United States and Saudi Arabia isn’t any of that space not occupied by the Russians likely to be occupied by the Chinese? Has the Obama Administration really thought through the ramifications of that?

    My recollection may be imperfect, but wasn’t the reason that oil prices didn’t skyrocket in the aftermath of sanctions against Iran due to the willingness of the Saudis to act as suppliers of last resort? Couldn’t Saudi Arabia maintain its oil revenue by pumping less while watching the price of oil increase? Who will suffer more if Saudis reduce supply while prices rise; them or us?

    Maybe I’m just a worrywart, but aren’t their potential long term horrific consequences of our breach with the Saudis? Isn’t a key foundational element of the dollars status as the world’s reserve currency, the fact that payment for oil is made in dollars? Suppose the Saudis and the Gulf allies stopped pricing oil in dollars? What would the ramifications of this be?

    I understand that right now with the Euro’s problems and with China’s currency not ready for prime time, that there may be no substitute for the dollar, but do we really want to hasten the day when a replacement for the dollar as the world’s reserve currency becomes feasible? It seems to me that if Saudi Arabia has as much or more allegiance to the Russians or Chinese as they have to us, this possibility becomes more and more real.

    Obama keeps pocking a stick in the eye of the Saudis. First he takes sides in the Sunni Cold War by calling Erdogan his best friend and then he abandons Mubarak and in favor of Morsi and the Brothers in Egypt. I doubt that the Saudis liked that one bit.

    Now Obama is pursuing a rapproachement with the single country that Saudi Arabia hates more than any other; Iran.

    Again, maybe out of ignorance I am exaggerating all of this, but it seems to me that a world where the Saudi-American alliance is torn asunder will be a very different world than the one that we are used to.

    Perhaps Adam can tell us whether relations between the United States and Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia is the zero sum game it appears to be; I suspect that it might be.

    Before throwing this relationship on the trash heap, shouldn’t someone in the Administration figure out what the consequences might be? Have they even thought about all of this in a careful way?

    Perhaps they have, but it seems more likely to me that Obama is exchanging a short term political fix for the problems that he created for himself, for what could be a long term disaster.

    • Have they thought about the longer term implications of forcing the Al-Saud to diversify its strategic portfolio? Not the ones who make the decisions. I can find evidence of no actual thinking in this White House, only a hot-potato act that takes away immediate pain, whether caused by others or by oneself.

      But, neither the Russians nor the Chinese can do for the Saudis what we still can, so it’s not an either/or proposition. Nor is it true that the US dumped Mubarak, even though the Saudis tend to think that way. No, the generals dumped Mubarak, old and ill and determined to anoint his made-in-the-USA MBA son, Gamal, when he became more of a liability to their interests than an asset. We were presented with a fait accompli at that point. Our mistake was failing to help ready an inevitable transition from the Mubarak era, a mistake that stretched over three administrations.

      • Yes. BTW, if the Saudis do need a major energy consumer country to turn to, it will be China, not Russia, which is in accelerating demographic and economic decline.

  • WigWag

    “But either way a deep divide in U.S.-Israeli relations will arise—so that this “special” relationship, as with relationships with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and others—will be left much worse off when Obama leaves office than they were when he entered it.” (Adam Garfinkle)

    Another thing that I wonder about is whether there is the potential for a surreptitious but consequential relationship between the Israelis on one side and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs on the other side.

    The interests of the Israelis and the Saudis (and their Gulf Arab allies) seem to be aligning more closely every day. Can’t you just see the Israeli and Saudi leaders rolling their eyes in unison at every boneheaded move that Obama and his colleagues make?

    I could be dead wrong about this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that in their heart of hearts, the leaders of Saudi Arabia are far less anti Semitic than the Muslim Brothers in Egypt or Erdogan and his AKP brethren in Turkey.

    As for the Palestinians, perhaps Adam can tell us, but do the Saudis really have any more sympathy for the Palestinian plight than the Israelis do? Isn’t Saudi financial and moral support for the Palestinians mostly tactical rather than ideological?

    With their interests so closely aligned is there a realistic way that Saudi Arabia and Israel might actually cooperate not merely tacitly but actively?

    If Israel does decide to attack Iran, is it possible that it will notify the Saudis in advance while leaving Obama in the dark?

    • The Israelis and Saudis do communicate, and yes, it’s been clear for a long time that their interests viz Iran are coincident. Saudi anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, however, is merely older and more tired than newer shoots of the same poisonous weed. It’s quite sincere, which is why any cooperation has to stay hidden. The Saudi ulemma are as hidebound as they come, and Saudi Arabia is and has been from the start a condominium of the ibn-Wahhab and the ibn-Saud. So this limits any Saudi-Israeli coordination. As to the Palestinians, the Saudis are sympathetic sincerely but generically; when it comes to specifics, they don’t feel especially kindred to any hadhari Arabs, Palestinians included.

      As your last question, I doubt an Israeli attack, so the matter is moot.

  • Well said, and terrifying. I have stopped reading the analyses of a certain other Middle East expert who will go unnamed here because the Obama administration’s foreign policy incompetence is so extreme it pushed this analyst into conspiracy-type thinking of the “Obama is a closet far-left-radical Muslim Brotherhood-sympathizer” variety. The truth is far less colorful but if anything more dismal. I will be rereading Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” for the very cold comfort that it was ever thus.

    • Never attribute to conspiracy what can be more safely ascribed to stupidity.

      • Right. The Brits have a similar saying: “Conspiracy or cock-up? Cock-up.”

        • Brian Flanagan

          In the brilliant 1980’s BBC comedy “Yes, Minister”, the Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, once explained department inaction on a government program to his Minister, Jim Hacker. Hacker suspected a conspiracy. Appleby said, “I wouldn’t call Civil Service delays ‘tactics’ – that would be to mistake lethargy for strategy.”

  • Nathan

    I think you nailed the core problem here with the Obama administration: the desire to avoid short-term pain. I’m not quite sure how to square that with their seeming willingness to go to war against public opinion back in September, but it describes far too much of what I see to not be the starting point of discussion.

  • Jots

    This tracks my more random thoughts. I learn a great deal from your posts. Thank you.
    I have been thinking of containment in Europe, not to suggest a literal replication of it in the Middle East, but because Obama has already conceded the Iranians their bomb, it seems to me. I know we must wait and see how this plays out but as you are saying, virtually the whole fabric of our relationships and opportunities for alliances are being wiped out, one by one, by this ignorant and heedless man. We appear to be deliberately turning others away.
    Containment did not just relate to nuclear weaponry. It enforced a European peace. There were US bases (we completely vacated Iraq, and according to Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker, the Iranians were behind the Iraqi demands that we evacuate. What is your take on that?). There were alliances (NATO). There was a recognized commonality of interests. It does seem having conventional military helped protect borders, and made worse warfare (of the nuclear kind) less, not more, likely.

    I see none of this kind of thinking ahead, at all, in our policy and approach to the Middle East now. Hell, I can’t discern any strategy at work at all. And NOTHING good can seem to come from that.

    Absent any foresight on our part Iran will have nuclear weapons and the kind of regional politics that will allow for a lot of other mischief as well; they will have lots more different kinds of ways available to them to expand their influence. I have always believed we would want to help create more stability in the Middle East and actually being there is kind of a prerequisite!

  • Anthony

    “We have achieved all this thanks to a policy process that has been wildly sub-professional, and, thanks to key concessions, has undermined U.S. credibility worldwide. The U.S. reputation in the Middle East truly is at its lowest ebb, ever – so low that our NATO ally Turkey (….) has decided to partner with China to build an anti-ballistic missile system instead of us. That’s very bad….” Adam Garfinkle the above represents sum and sense of your contextual essays on Middle East contretemps and their N-cushion consequences worldwide for U.S. influence and credibility. Further, it brings to mind characterization from an August post: “President loves split the difference middle ways” – avoidance of regional strategic realities.

    • Anthony

      Oh, by the way thanks.

  • Oren

    I very much enjoy reading Adam Garfinkle’s commentary. Its obviously several cuts above anything you find in MSM. And yet – just to play a bit of a devil’s advocate here –
    a) Isn’t the Syrian agreement good at least in the sense that it pushed the use of CW to the forefront, and would provide a little additional deterrence to Assad from future highly egregious usages? And after all it wasn’t like Obama had a strong hand to play in this Poker given Congress’s attitude.
    b) Isn’t there at least a small chance that the Iranians are making a real change in policy? Recall the first weeks after Gorbachev assumed office. Nobody thought that that guy was going to be different either.

    • On the second point, yes, it’s possible, and we owe it to ourselves to find out, because nearly any non-kinetic retirement of the nuclear issue is better than nearly any kinetic way of dealing with it. But that doesn’t mean it’s wise to make major concessions just to get to the table. A failure to be shrewd lowers the chance of diplomatic success, and also puts one in a worse place if things don’t work out diplomatically. Again, for the umpteenth time, diplomacy and force are not opposites; they are complements. Anyone who does not understand this has no business mucking around in these subjects.

      On the first point, no, sorry: The chemical weapons thing is like the dance of the seven veils. The last veil will never fall, and meanwhile you’ve missed dinner and had your wallet lifted to boot. The CW stuff is a sideshow to the real stakes involved in Syria, so unless the deal can be used as a wedge to get at the real issues, then I have to regard it as a diversion fashioned by the clueless and the feckless. As a result, America’s stock in the region and elsewhere has tumbled, and that is dangerous. And I doubt it will serve as a such a wedge, because the clueless and feckless will not swing the sledge to make it so. Finally, don;t forget that the mess POTUS got himself into with Congress was an impromptu unforced error, so to say the Putin deal saved him is a little like saying that the emperor, after all, isn’t ENTIRELY naked.

      • Oren

        One very troubling dimension of the Syrian CW stockpiles is the risk of them falling into the hands of the Al Qaeda types that are fighting on the other side. A reduction in the stockpiles – even outdated ones – is important in lowering this risk. It would also mean fewer targets that would need to be hit – should a military intervention by the US, NATO or Israel be eventually warranted.
        If you compare that to an alternative of the administration not doing anything at all (except lip service speeches) – then I think the end result is better despite the many significant holes and sub-optimal aspects of the agreement that you illuminate.

        • Well, that point stands only if the program proceeds in a significant way. I am skeptical that it will. We shall see. Just by the way, too, no strikes on Syria by anyone would directly target CW stocks. Much too dangerous and counterproductive; there is no point in killing more innocent people in the area of the depots.

  • Peter

    “The regime can declare 90 percent or more of the relevant sites and lose nothing in military terms. It even gains financially: Others will now pay to dispose of stuff that’s useless and dangerous, and the bill will be quite large—in the billions of dollars, very likely, if it ever comes to that.”

    Excellent point in an excellent posting.

    • I’m curious why no one else I’ve seen has made this point. It’s sort of obvious.

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    • Just note that despite fracking, US dependence on Saudi oil hasn’t changed much, and that aspect of the comment sort of misses the main point about energy markets–which is that they are vertically integrated and there is one international price. And it’s price that matters, because it sizes the market even in the US. So even if the US imported zero oil from KSA, its swing-producer status over all still has enormous international and US-domestic economy significance.

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