The House of Saud

Excerpt from The fall of the House of Saud, By Robert Baer, The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003

Robert Baer served for twenty-one years with the CIA, primarily as a field officer in the Middle East. He resigned from the agency in 1997 and was awarded its Career Intelligence Medal in 1998. This article is adapted from his book Sleeping With the Devil (June, 2003, Crown Publishers), Saudi Arabia today is a mess, and it is our mess. We made it the private storage tank for our oil reserves. We reaped the benefits of a steady petroleum supply at a discounted price, and we grabbed at every available Saudi petrodollar. We taught the Saudis exactly what was expected of them. We cannot walk away morally from the consequences of this behavior–and we really can’t walk away economically. So we crow about democracy and talk about someday weaning ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, despite the fact that as long as America has been dependent on foreign oil there has never been an honest, sustained effort at the senior governmental level to reduce long-term U.S. petroleum consumption. Not all the wishing in the world will change the basic reality of the situation.

Saudi Arabia controls the largest share of the world’s oil and serves as the market regulator for the global petroleum industry. No country consumes more oil, and is more dependent on Saudi oil, than the United States. The United States and the rest of the industrialized world are therefore absolutely dependent on Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves, and will be for decades to come. If the Saudi oil spigot is shut off, by terrorism or by political revolution, the effect on the global economy, and particularly on the economy of the United States, will be devastating.

Link The fall of the House of Saud, By Robert Baer, The Atlantic Monthly

Winning the Real War By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Excerpts from

Winning the Real War


For me, though, it is a disturbing thought that the Bush team could get itself so tied up defending its phony reasons for going to war — the notion that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that were undeterrable and could threaten us, or that he had links with Al Qaeda — that it could get distracted from fulfilling the real and valid reason for the war: to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq that would be the best answer and antidote to both Saddam and Osama.

…Over 20 mass graves have already been uncovered in Iraq, and there may be as many as 90. One grave alone in Hilla is estimated to contain 10,000 people murdered by Saddam’s regime. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are 300,000 people missing in Iraq. President Bush is flailing around looking for Saddam’s unused weapons of mass destruction, when evidence of his actual mass destruction is all over the place in Iraq. Yet the Pentagon has done almost nothing to help Iraqis properly exhume these graves, prepare evidence for a war crimes tribunal or expose this mass murder to the world.

Eyes on the prize, please. If we find W.M.D. in Iraq, but lose Iraq, Mr. Bush will not only go down as a failed president, but one who made the world even more dangerous for Americans. If we find no W.M.D., but build a better Iraq — one that proves that a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state can rule itself in a decent way — Mr. Bush will survive his hyping of the W.M.D. issue, and the world will be a more hospitable and safer place for all Americans.

Thomas Friedman Shoots Straight … Again

Excerpt from “Hummers Here, Hummers There“, NY Times, May 25, 2003

We never talk straight to Saudi Arabia, because we are addicted to its oil. Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

If we were telling the Saudis the truth, we would tell them that their antimodern and antipluralist brand of Islam — known as Wahhabism — combined with their oil wealth has become a destabilizing force in the world. By financing mosques and schools that foster the least tolerant version of Islam, they are breeding the very extremists who are trying to burn down their house and ours.

But we also need to tell ourselves the truth. We constantly complain about the blank checks the Saudis write to buy off their extremists. But who writes the blank checks to the Saudis? We do — with our gluttonous energy habits, renewed addiction to big cars, and our president who has made “conservation” a dirty word.

In the wake of the Iraq war, the E.P.A. announced that the average fuel economy of America’s cars and trucks fell to its lowest level in 22 years, with the 2002 model year. That is a travesty. No wonder foreigners think we sent our U.S. Army Humvees to control Iraq, just so we could drive more G.M. Hummers over here. When our president insists that we can have it all ? big cars, big oil, lower taxes, with no sacrifices or conservation ? why shouldn’t the world believe that all we are about is protecting our right to binge?

And so the circle is complete: President Bush won’t tell Americans the truth, so we won’t tell Saudis the truth, so they won’t tell their extremists the truth, so they can go on pumping intolerance and we can go on guzzling gas. Someday, our kids will condemn us for all of this.

Are suicide bombers stupid?

Here are the Five Laws of Stupidity according to Carlo Cipolla:

1 – Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2 – The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3 – A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4 – Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 – A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Types of Human Actions
Hapless: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-damage, but also to create advantage for someone else.
Intelligent: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage, as well as advantage for others.
Bandit: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage while causing damage to others.
Stupid: A stupid person causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

The Third Bubble

Excerpts from The Third Bubble


Like the stock market and corporate bubbles, the terrorism bubble was the product of a kind of temporary insanity, in which basic norms were ignored and excessive behavior was justified by new theories. In the case of the terrorism bubble, we were told that suicide bombing was the work of desperate people who had no other way to get America’s or Israel’s attention.

People across Europe and the Arab-Muslim world bought such theories. Some Muslim religious leaders even came up with rulings justifying the suicide bombing of civilians in pizza parlors. Arab media called the terrorists “martyrs.” It was moral creative accounting: if you are weak, there is no limit on what you can do, and if you are strong ? like America and Israel ? you have no moral right to defend yourself. Worse, after 9/11, some in the Arab-Muslim world actually believed they had found a new balance of power with America ? through the suicide bomber.

And we in America believed them, so we blew up the bubble more. We contorted our whole open society, and imprisoned ourselves. My daughter’s high school symphony orchestra trip to New Orleans was canceled because of the recent terrorism alerts. Insane.

Yes, this Iraq war was about Saddam. For George Bush and Tony Blair, though, I think it was about something larger, but unstated. They were implicitly saying: “This terrorism bubble has come to threaten open societies and all they value. So, we’re going to use Iraq ? because we can ? to demonstrate to you that we’ll come right into the heart of your world to burst this bubble. Take note.”

We and the Arab-Muslim world must now draw the right conclusions. One hopes Americans will now stop overreacting to 9/11. Al Qaeda is not the Soviet Union. Saddam was not Stalin. And terrorism is not communism. America sliced right through Iraq. It did so because we are a free-market democracy that is capable of amassing huge amounts of technical power. And it did so because our soldiers so cherish what they have that they were ready to fight house to house from Basra to Baghdad. That was the real shock and awe for Iraqis ? because the terrorism bubble said Nasdaq-obsessed Americans were so caught up with the frivolity of modern life, they had lost the will to fight. Wrong.

We are strong because of who we are. Iraq was weak because of what it was. So, yes, let’s add a metal detector or two at the airports, but let’s stop thinking we have to remake our whole society, constrict all civil liberties, ban all Arab students and throw out all our foreign policy doctrines that have served us so well ? from deterrence to collective security to the usefulness of the U.N. ? to meet this new terrorism threat. We do not, and we must not.

The New York Times 4/20/2003

Why they’ll really hate us


There is no media meme I hate more than the question, “Why do they hate us?” The implication is that “their” hatred is justified and thus their actions against us — on 9.11 — are justified (and our war there is unjustified). This is a despicable bit of tortured logic and morality. The rhetorical equivalent is to ask why another “they” — the Germans — hated the Jews as if there is any reason for bigotry and hatred and as if that, then, justifies what the atrocities that resulted. Both questions are equally offensive, equally wrong.

I don’t give a goddamn why “they” hate us.

I have to make my moral and political judgments based on what I think is right — not on the basis of a popularity contest and especially not a popularity contest among countries and dictators who do not allow democracy or equal rights or free speech, countries that do not allow the governed to govern, countries that are nothing but repressive dictatorships.

Now, having said all that, I now see that there is a reason why “they” will hate us:
“They” — that is, the repressive, anti-democratic, dictators of the Arab world — will hate us, indeed, for bringing demoracy to Iraq — if we are successful — for that will make their people want to rise up and gain their rightful freedoms.

“They” — the fearful leaders, not their oppressed peoples — will hate us for making their people question — and then overthrow — their leadership.

“They” are scared shitless by what their satellite channels showed to their people this week.
Of course, we are going to hear criticism of us from Arab leaders. We heard criticism of us from Saddam Hussein, didn’t we? But when he left, the true feelings of his people came out, didn’t they?
Note, then, this from today’s Washington Post on the rumbles caused in Saudi Arabia by the liberation of Iraq:

Mohsen Awajy knows better than most Saudis the perils of speaking his mind on such subjects as elections and government accountability.

Nine years ago, not long after the Persian Gulf War, the religious scholar and agronomist was thrown into prison for co-writing a petition that suggested Saudis be given a “choice” on who ruled the country. He was released in 1998, four years into his nine-year sentence, with the admonition that he could end up back in jail if he spoke out again.

Dissidents like Awajy were emboldened once more by the current conflict in Iraq. Many recognized that the government was allowing dissent and anger to flow. Saudis watching the war have been successively outraged by civilian casualties, elated at Iraqi resistance and depressed when the war turned in favor of U.S.-led forces, and are now expressing humiliation at the rapid collapse of Baghdad. The government has sought to manage and co-opt antiwar fervor. In a country where public demonstrations are banned, there is new debate about political reforms that were suggested long before the first U.S. strikes against Iraq.

“The regime used to be brutal in peaceful conditions,” said Awaji, who intends to call on the government to distance itself from the United States when the war finally ends. “In this crisis, we find a lot of opportunities to express our feelings. Without trouble in the region, we aren’t able to say anything.”