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America Would Benefit from a Balance of Power in the Persian Gulf

December 31, 2017 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

President Donald Trump once was skeptical of the totalitarian
dictatorship commonly known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
He complained, correctly, that Saudis had funded terrorism against
America and wondered why the United States subsidized the
protection of a wealthy petro-state.

After taking office the president, perhaps affected by abundant
flattery judiciously employed by people highly skilled in the art,
acted like just another Westerner hired by the Saudi royals to do
their bidding. After his visit, highlighted by his uncomfortable
participation in the traditional Sword Dance, he added the KSA to
America’s pantheon of “special relationships.”
Riyadh’s wish seemingly became Washington’s command.
The result has been a steady assault on American interests and
values.

The West’s relationship with the Kingdom always has been
transactional. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud forged the new Saudi nation
after the fortuitous collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
The kingdom mattered little until the discovery of oil in 1938.
Abundant petroleum won America’s “friendship,”
though in the 1970s the Saudis turned their resource into a weapon.
Successive presidents have celebrated the bilateral relationship,
sometimes with unseemly faux intimacy, even though the two
countries shared little other than a desire to keep the oil flowing
one way and dollars the other.

During the Cold War
Washington’s close embrace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made a
certain strategic sense, though the enthusiasm exhibited by
American policymakers never did. Today a far more limited,
arms-length relationship is needed.

The KSA belongs in another age. The country is an absolute, not
constitutional, monarchy. Nor is rule based on primogeniture.
Rather, until a couple years ago the crown was passed among an
ever-aging set of brothers who were sons of ibn Saud. That tended
to result in short and decrepit reigns, as well as collegial rule.
The benefits of a royal pedigree were substantial; by one count
around 7,000 princes shared the nation’s bounty.

The royals long ago made a deal with fundamentalist Wahhabist
clergy: the former would enforce social totalitarianism at home in
return for the latter teaching obedience to the royals. One result
was to create a state perhaps more hostile to Christianity and
other non-Muslim faiths than even North Korea. At least the latter
hosts a few official churches, presenting a thin veneer of
religious diversity.

However, low oil prices and youthful population created
increasing strain in the KSA. But hope for reform never was
satisfied. Elderly and infirm kings came and died, only to be
replaced by even more elderly and infirm rulers.

Now the United States is dealing with a very different
personality, the thirty-two-year-old crown prince (and de facto
sovereign) Mohammed bin Salman …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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