My roommates’ epic quest to hydrate and find out why I’ve got a mad-on for Syria continues. I think this video is a helpful jumping off point for the next steps in the series. We’ll be stepping out of the desert, and leaving Saudi Arabia behind as much as we can. The question of the problems of the Middle East, and the supposedly “eternal hatreds” of the Sunni-Shia divide will be our focus in the coming weeks.
This is our seventh video this week! That’s a feat I’ve certainly never managed before. It’s been quite a journey. The videos are doing quite well, and I’ve sold a respectable pile of essays. The comments sections are probably my favorite bit. I’m having a series of unusually civil conversations with a range of people interested in the topic. Multiple Saudi Arabians, angry old people who have watched too much Fox News, Swedes concerned about Immigration, and others across the world have chimed in. Even better, I think I’m changing minds. A quick tour through the essay reviews on Amazon will show you that.
There’s one dimension on which this project is failing unfortunately. And that’s the financial one. I’ve sold a bunch of essays, and that’s very satisfying, but it doesn’t come to a total that makes up for the year I spent developing the project. For the past three months, this has been all I have done. In the coming weeks I’m going to have to step up my free-lancing. I may have to take the extreme step of seeking a full-time job. If I do that, I’ll be going from producing 7 videos a week to producing 7 videos a year. I don’t want that, but after three years of trying to make this work, it’s getting hard to avoid. If you’d like to keep me at this, there’s a very easy way to help. I run a crowd-funding page at Patreon. The service allows people to sign up to chip in a set amount of money for each video. Most of my patrons chip in a dollar or so. It’s easy to cap the amount of money given each month as well, in case I go crazy and make ten videos in a month. For the cost of a cup of coffee a month, you can help keep this project going… I’d be very grateful if you considered doing so…
Saudi Arabia is a US colony. It owes its existence to the British Empire, and it owes its continued existence to the United States. This is not widely known. Folks just assume that Saudi Arabia was always there, they got lucky with oil, and now we’re stuck with them. That’s not how it went at all. It’s probably worth documenting this claim in a longer blog post than normal. It’s a bit too complex to wrap into this video.
The Saud family, and its nasty relationship with religious extremism does go back a ways. I document this relationship at length in the essay, which I recommend you buy. They managed to put together a pretty impressive, if briefly lived state in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They held Mecca and Medina briefly, from 1802 to 1818. They were booted out of there by an Ottoman Egyptian Army. The Saud family then managed to put together another chunk of land based around Riyadh, but by the 1890s they were refugees, forced to seek shelter in Kuwait. If you’d picked a family ca. 1910 to end up the most powerful (and possibly richest) of the last royal families standing it certainly wouldn’t have been the Sauds.
Which is where the British empire stepped in. In 1915 the British were fighting World War I against the Ottoman Empire, among others. They were looking to support any Arab leader they could against the Ottomans, who had controlled the Middle East since the 1500s. Have you seen Lawrence of Arabia? That’s about the British support given to the Hashemite family, that had ruled Mecca for hundreds of years. The Arab Revolt that made Lawrence a celebrity was led by Faisal of the Hashemites. This was all lovely, stuck it to the Ottomans, and turned Faisal into a somewhat internationally respected figure.
This presented the British with a problem when the war ended in 1918. They had Faisal, a well respected, charismatic leader, with established connections to the Arab urban centers, and some modernizing instincts. Faisal had a pan-Arab mindset, and envisioned a unified, powerful and developing Arab state, stretching from his family’s territory in Mecca and Medina as far as Damascus and Baghdad, and maybe beyond. This was more or less what he had been promised during the War, and he went to the Paris Peace conference to press his case.
But the British didn’t want that. They wanted the territory for themselves. They got it, establishing “Mandates” in Palestine and Iraq. The Brits got Baghdad and Jerusalem, and the French got Damascus, establishing what became the ill-fated state of Syria. Arabia, or rather all the unimportant and desert bits of Arabia were left to the Hashemites. But not just the Hashemites. The British continued to support the Sauds, with cash subsidies, and a ton of surplus munitions from the war. It depends who you read, but many sources maintain that the British subsidies were the only thing keeping the dirt poor and enthusiastically anti-modern Saudi army going.
If you were the British who would you rather support as a neighbor? A charismatic descendant of the prophet, experienced in international diplomacy? Or a bunch of desert whackos? The desert whackos looked a lot less threatening. The British continued to support both families, but it’s unlikely that they were all that disturbed when the Sauds came screaming out of the desert and took Mecca and Medina in 1925. This conquest was accompanied by strikingly ISIS like destruction of ‘idolatrous’ Muslim heritage sites and massacres of non-combatants. The British didn’t lift a finger to help the Hashemites reclaim their historic lands. They felt a bit bad though, so they made Faisal King of Iraq. In May 1953 his descendants were massacred, and the monarchy was ended in one of Iraq’s many brutal changes of government. King Abdullah II of Jordan is the last ruling member of the Hashemite dynasty, descended from one of Faisal’s brothers. The Sauds got Mecca and Medina, the de facto leadership of Sunni Islam, and extraordinary oil wealth. The Hashemites got that really cool set from the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The British catch a lot of flack for their mishandling of the Israel-Palestine issue, but if you ask me, their creation of Saudi Arabia is a lot more unforgivable.
The “problem of Islam” has nothing to do with religion. At root it’s about development. Specifically uneven development. Up until 1989, the Middle East faced a lot of the same problems that the rest of the world did. The rest of the world got to emerge from the cold war, the Middle East didn’t. Rivalries between Iran, the US, Israel, Syria, Iraq and others persisted while the rest of the world moved on and got rich. But there was a country in the Middle East that has been rich for over half a century. Saudi Arabia used its riches to attempt to crush Islamic diversity world-wide. They failed.
Saudi Arabia is no longer the only rich Muslim country. Its influence is fading. This will accelerate in the new oil price environment. But nobody fully appreciates what has happened. The Saudi megaphone has been the largest for quite some time. They have the eager participation of Islamophobes in the West, who are happy to call Saudi religion the only version of Islam. Saudi Arabia’s project failed. But very few know it even existed. This video attempts to set the record straight.
My roommates went to Coachella this weekend. When they got back I made them talk about Saudi Arabia. They were pretty beat, but it’s still a more useful conversation than you would ever get on Fox News or CNN. The talk is a bit rambling, but it’s super useful. It gave us a chance to enlarge on some of the issues brought up by the videos. It also brings in some of the issues covered by the “Everybody’s Lying About Islam” essay that may not get covered in the videos.
The most important issue that the talk covers is my personal attitude towards Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabians. It’s important to emphasize that as angry as I am about the US-Saudi relationship, I bear no ill will towards Saudi Arabians. The whole country, even its leadership is caught in a trap. It’s not a trap that’s entirely of their own making. Find out more by reading the essay…
9/11 conspiracy theorists are focusing on the wrong thing. The true scandal isn’t what happened in the run-up to 9/11. It’s what Washington, DC did after 9/11 that is truly horrifying.
US Middle East Policy is a sad, sad joke. One of the central points in my understanding of the world is this: Institutions will act in what they perceive their interests to be, not the interests of the people they are supposed to serve. When institutions are crafted with this knowledge in mind, they can serve useful purposes. But once you point them in a direction, they are hard to turn around. The fundamental ridiculousness of post-9/11 foreign policy, laid out in this video, is a great example.
On 9/11 we were attacked by Saudi Arabia. But the US foreign policy establishment had decided long ago that the Saudis were are allies. So we went out and beat up on Saudi Arabia’s enemies. This never made any sense. Worse, it hasn’t worked. The US government’s policy was always going to be a failure on the measure of finding and punishing the perpetrators of the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. That was never the goal. But post-9/11 hasn’t even succeeded in the goal it chose: Protecting and expanding Saudi and US power.
So maybe we should choose some new goals?
If you want an idea of what that might look like, and a fuller recounting of the disaster that post- 9/11 US policy has been, I suggest you check out my new essay: Everybody’s Lying About Islam.
People are good at ignoring the obvious. Saudi Arabia is finished. The 2014 crash in the price of oil has left the ruling family in an impossible position. Since 2014 the country has been burning through around $100 Billion of dollar reserves a year. At that pace, the current regime has got about 4 years left before they can’t meet their obligations. The almost 100 billion in debt (up by a factor of 4 since 2014) that the country is now carrying will accelerate this issue. This problem has been noted of course, but most financial publications have been quick to swallow the Saudi line on the issue.
The problem has been identified, and Saudi Arabia is supposedly taking bold steps to address it. What few are talking about is how inadequate these steps are. This video covers the farcical “Vision 2030” idea that is supposedly going to turn Saudi Arabia into a new Dubai.
What I didn’t get into, because the video was already too long, was the illusion of a Saudi Aramco IPO. Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, is supposedly a multi-trillion dollar company. Selling off the proposed 5-10% of the company would give the Saudi royal family a few more years of runway. It’s not going to work. It may very well go forward, but they are not going to get the money they want. Also, the investment is something that everybody will be excited to look into, but dramatically fewer will want to actually buy.
Aramco is a state-run black box at the moment. Getting money from outside investors would require a high degree of disclosure and re-organization that they are unlikely to be interested in doing. The country is also faced with a couple of Catch-22s. First, driving up the valuation of the company requires driving up the cost of oil. To do this Saudi Arabia has to restrict its supply, which means it would lose market share, and have less funds to deal with its many issues. Second, if they don’t get Aramco up to Western corporate standards, they’ll have to rely on local investors. Those investors have plenty of money, but as the country gets shakier, they will become less interested in investing in Aramco. A great indication of the shakiness of Saudi Arabia would be the country’s needing to rely on local investors to fund the Aramco IPO.
These issues leave me convinced that by 2030 Saudi Arabia will be a completely different country. Unfortunately US policy seems to be that the Saudi money spinner will go on forever. The new administration has been doubling down on the brutal Saudi adventure in Yemen, and seems to want to escalate with Iran. This is crazy.
This is it! I’ve been preparing this “Everybody’s Lying About Islam” essay and video series for a very long time. Saudi Arabia is a problem, and nobody talks about it. So let’s talk about it. The standard establishment “Islam is a Religion of Peace” line is true to a degree. But it is deployed to deflect attention from Saudi Arabia and its very real and malign effect on world-wide Islam. Because US politicians (Trump included) spend all their effort protecting Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for 9-11, many Americans get the accurate sense that they’re being lied to. They question why radical Islam remains a problem after 15 years of supposedly fighting it. Unfortunately this leaves them open to the Islamophobic line peddled across the political spectrum from Donald Trump to Bill Maher. The essay does what no corporate media outlet is interested in doing. It documents the US-Saudi relationship from FDR on down, and illustrates the horrific effects the relationship has had. 9-11 is nowhere near the worst of it.
This video is the first in a looong series I have prepped on the topic. Of course if you want the full story, I suggest you buy the essay “Everybody’s Lying about Islam”, available now on the Amazon Kindle. As I say in the video, it will tell you more about “what’s really going on” than a year of watching Fox News, or a year of reading the New York Times.
I find most discussion of the Syrian Civil War in the United States to be a bit childish. I get that nation-states are best understood as selfish infants that run around breaking anything they can get away with. But we ought to at least try to evolve. The first step in this would be looking at the Syrian proxy war and its origins honestly. It’s becoming harder to ignore the fact that the Syrian civil war would have been dramatically less bloody, and finished long ago if it weren’t for foreign actors. When people bring up the obvious facts of US, NATO or Gulf imperialism and what it has done to Syria, the standard response from the leading lights of our foreign policy community has become, “Well what about Russian, and Iranian Imperialism!!!”. It’s the equivalent of “But he started it Mommy!”. Well they didn’t.
This video lays out the basic facts of the conflict that Fox News and the New York Times are ignoring. It conclusively answers the question: “Who Killed Syria?”
Donald Trump has had a pretty extraordinary week. He’d already made himself a lot of friends in Washington, DC through his willingness to bomb Syria. But on Wednesday in particular he reversed himself on a number of issues he campaigned on. He is now endorsing positions he campaigned against when Hillary held them. This shift is heartening in some ways. People are breathing a sigh of relief. But can we trust him? And is a return to the Washington, DC playbook such a good thing anyway? I don’t trust Trump. And my roommate Ray really doesn’t trust Trump. Click here to view our wide-ranging discussion. It strays a little closer to the Democratic party line than I’m happy with, but hey, enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Words are important. Last week’s video on Gibraltar inspired a lot of confusion in the comments. People didn’t seem to understand why I found the statement from the UK’s Michael Howard so offensive. So this video explains in detail. Using violent words in a time of international uncertainty can lead to violence. History shows us this.
The video was already too long, so I left out examples of how this happens. In the pre-industrial era you could see this sort of thing all the time. Lands were ruled by Kings and Nobles, with a delicate sense of honor, who would sometimes start wars over verbal insults. The Spanish Armada, the most famous example of tension between Spain and Great Britain is one example. The Spanish tried to invade Britain for a number of reasons, among them religious words, but some of them were personal. Phillip II of Spain was angry that the English Queen Elizabeth had rejected his son’s hand in marriage.
You can see the importance of the words of leaders in the run up to World War I. Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 tells the tale. For decades European leaders used belligerent nationalist talk about their enemies to legitimate their rule. They found that this got out of control. Their newly moneyed and literate publics took these words to heart, and ran ahead of their rulers in their hatred of the other. World War I was started by a perfect storm of idiocy, but a lot of it started with words. When the few leaders with sense could see what was happening, they found that they were constrained by the nationalist beast they had unleashed. That beast ended up eradicating the power, and sometimes the lives of most of Europe’s royal families. It’s a great book, and an important read as we fall back into the nationalist maelstrom. I’d suggest giving it a look…