This video may not strike you as very serious. But seriousness is the whole point. We use Iran to justify a lot of bad behavior. Just a week or so back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we’re going to indefinitely hold territory in Syria because we don’t like the fact that Iran has influence in a country it has had influence in for decades. We use the “seriousness” of the Iranian threat to ourselves and Israel to justify stuff. This doesn’t mean we’re actually serious about the Iranian threat.
Because if we were serious about countering Iran, we’d be using every possible opening. We’d have the ability to both deal with them diplomatically, and oppose them militarily in proxy wars, just like the Cold Warriors of Yore. But we don’t. Because nothing about US foreign policy is serious. Other than its consequences for the world. This video is a thought experiment, asking how we’d tread Iran’s president Rouhani if we were truly serious about countering threats from Iran.
History can be used as a weapon. There are a lot of people in my YouTube comments, and in the US at large, who have some weird ideas about Islam. The things they know aren’t necessarily wrong, but the conclusions they draw are. This is a problem that comes up again and again in contemporary political discussion. The more context you have, the more you realize that individual facts don’t tell you as much as you think they do. This video, and the next couple I will be producing, aim to provide the context necessary to better understand the darker aspects of world history, and Islamic history in particular.
A lot of Saudi Arabia coverage focuses on the loose cannon effect the country has been having on Middle East politics for the past year. Little attention has been paid to the promises that have been made to the country, and the way those promises have not been honored. I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of 2017 from the perspective of Saudi Arabia’s rulers for once. I think it illuminates something many have been missing.
This video started out as a central idea I wanted to deliver about the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Then it evolved into more of a Saudi Arabia year in review thing. This video is different from the recent ones in a number of ways. It tries to cover a lot, quickly. Not sure whether it’s worthwhile or not. Let me know @robbolaw
War Sucks. This is something we’ve lost touch with in the United States. It’s a central truth that’s become further and further from us since the middle of the 20th century. Not that our World War II experience was all that bruising either, compared to almost anybody else in Europe and Asia. Since Vietnam our military has been all-volunteer, and in the 21st century our death-dealing has become more remote, thanks to drones and smarter weapons. Our insulation from all of the consequences of war has made us more willing to use it as a tool of policy or economic stimulus.
Not for Lebanon. They don’t have that luxury. For fifteen years, it was their tiny country that was torn apart by the political fantasies of foreign countries. This video lays out how that horror has allowed them to save us from a broader war, both over the past six years and in the past month in particular.
Since I started laying into Saudi Arabia with gusto about six months ago, folks have been bringing any number of stories to my attention. It seems like every month or so there is a new positive story about Saudi Arabia running in every major Western news outlet. It’s like clockwork. Actually it’s just like clockwork.
Some of these stories represent real advances. Some do not. But we’re not seeing them because of their intrinsic merit, we are seeing them because Saudi Arabia gives tens of millions of dollars to the best public relations people in the business. Last week saw one of the most coordinated and sophisticated pushes yet. This video mentions an interview with the Guardian, but there were customized approaches to a number of outlets. The New York Times gave their launch of a new economic zone above the fold treatment.
So I tend to be pretty skeptical when somebody comes to me with news of Saudi Arabia’s changes for the better. There was one element in the onslaught this week that surprised me however. MBS’s claim that Saudi Arabia is now a moderately Islamic country was legitimately shocking to me. Shocking enough that I made this video.
It occurs to me that I haven’t exactly been clear about what I want to be done about Saudi Arabia. I absolutely do not want to employ the conventional arsenal of regime change. I don’t even think our “historic alliance” should be abandoned. We just need to spend less time going in with them on stupid ideas like the Syrian and Yemeni “civil wars”. Because without us, they can’t to much to make their stupid ideas a reality. It’s now abundantly clear to everybody outside of the arms industry or Washington, DC that Saudi Arabia is not a useful ally. So let’s stop treating them as such. When they suggest a foreign adventure or a proxy war, lets treat them with exactly the same level of interest we’d have for a similar project from Bulgaria or Tanzania: Not Much.
This video answers a question I’ve gotten a few times in the comments. How can I be so pro-Iran yet so anti-Saudi Arabia? It’s simple really. I don’t want Iran to become the new Saudi Arabia, I just want to call an end to the decades of useless antagonism. Iran has not done us anywhere near as much harm as Saudi Arabia has. So we should treat Iran the same way we treat a more “distantly allied” Saudi Arabia. That would be quite a step up. It’s quite literally the least we can do.
It’s amazing how little most policy makers know about history. If it’s not about Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, they probably haven’t heard of it. This is a real problem. As the stewards of a power that might actually have a few real competitors a couple decades from now, they really need to start learning.
This week I’ve been in Bavaria, a formerly independent region of Germany. This prompted a number of ruminations on Germany, France, and their relative power throughout history. All that inspired this video, which reveals the central fact Washington, DC is missing: There is nothing worse for the power on top than war.
Donald Trump has proved that he is only capable of destruction. That’s not always a bad thing. On his first day he did away with the TPP, a move I supported, and a couple months back he did took the US out of the Paris Climate Change accords, which I did not support. But it’s the prospect of his taking us out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, as he almost did last week, that is the most frightening.
The conventional fox news narrative of the Nuclear Deal does not acknowledge the diplomacy that was necessary to force Iran to the table. To truly break the deal in a way that has any impact on Iran we need all the same international partners on board. If we don’t have that, we risk making the United States look foolish and weak. Foolish is nothing new. Weak is, and it would be a real problem. Today’s video explains the stakes.
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.
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…