While the House of Saud’s grip on political power in Saudi Arabia may appear as firm as ever, the Saudi royal family in fact walks a narrow tightrope, facing threats to their hold on power from both within and without. Indeed, many of the threats “within” interact with threats “without.” Understanding its attempt to maintain power amidst these many threats helps to understand Al Saud’s actions in Yemen, in the oil market, and its recent actions against Qatar. The start of Al Saud’s power, and still its centerpiece, was an 18th Century politico-religious bargain between Muhammad bin Saud and a reforming…
Ruling class pundits make much of the fact that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan have joined the Obama administration’s campaign of bombing the Islamic State. Also noted by the same talking heads is that some 5,000 so-called moderate Syrians are being trained to fight against Islamic State next year. Most admit the obvious: no one can imagine how these air strikes—few, against structures, mostly when these are unoccupied—can inconvenience the Islamic State seriously, never mind destroy. Yes, Sunni Arab counties have decided to take military action against the Sunni Arab Islamic State. But what is consequential about actions that have illusory consequences? What explains our government’s pretense that an alliance to accomplish un-consequential things is itself consequential?
As the Muslim world’s Sunni and Shia confessions tear at each other’s vitals along the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia through Syria and into Lebanon, some Americans’ regrets that we are not involved are based on the premise that this war is between moderates and extremists, and that our interest is to ensure the moderates’ victory. In fact however “moderation,” “extremism” and “al Qaeda” are categories that fit American prejudices better than they do than local realities. The war is about complex social, racial and religious hatreds accumulated over centuries.
Our Ruling class is at odds about how to respond to the Middle East warring factions’ threats and blandishments because it has forgotten US foreign policy’s basic principle – we are on America’s side – and never learned what justifies departure from that principle, namely war.
John Quincy Adams best stated the principle. America, he said, “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.” When foreigners war amongst themselves, we Americans must take neither side. If and when we do, we make their wars our own. Then we must deal with the consequences according to the logic of war.