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November 04, 2002

Dead Man's Hand What the

Dead Man's Hand

What the hell are the Saudis thinking? On the face of it, telling the U.S. that Saudi Arabian bases are off-limits even if the Security Council passes a resolution authorizing a military strike on Iraq is dipshit insane. Insane, because the accepted wisdom is that Dubya & Co. are the best friends the Saudis have in Washington, and that both sides will do anything to avoid an open break.

Except that now the House of Saud has gone and broken. It's going to be pretty hard to interpret this as anything other than a slap in George Bush's face, though he ought to have developed a Saudi callus by now.

So why now? The two main pressures on the Saudis, a restive population and the theoretical collapse of OPEC at some point in the future, are chronic rather than acute problems, so neither demand immediate attention, unless the Saudi population has actually screwed itself up the sticking point and is ready to rebel without anyone outside of the country noticing.

There are other hypotheses that might explain the sudden Saudi break. One, that there is an impending strike against Iraq with or without the blessing of the U.N., and the House of Saud is attempting to head it off, or at least position themselves as opposing the U.S. in the eyes of the Arab street. There's certainly circumstantial evidence that an attack might be forthcoming. Kuwait has not only sealed off one third of the country, it has shut down the local Al-Jazeera affiliate, thus removing a potent source of anti-American propaganda at the same time that it effectively hides all American troop movements . Arguing against imminent violence is the continued presence of the ships of the Military Sealift Command in Hampton Roads.

"If I go where I think we'd be going," said Capt. Doug Harrington, master of the 950- foot Sealift ship Mendonca, "I figure 23 to 30 days from activation here in Newport News to there" - "there" being a port near Iraq.

As of Oct 28th, the ships docked at Hampton Road's were still empty, and manned only by skeleton crews.

If a strike is not close at hand, what are the Saudis doing? Well, let's look at the timing of the announcement. Two days before the mid-term elections, elections that will have a great influence on the U.S. course in the Middle East for the next two years, the House of Saud bitch-slaps the biggest Republican in the land, not to mention a supposed "friend of the family" by announcing that they will not support a war on Iraq, no matter what.

Saudi Arabia has given up on the Republicans and has pinned all their hopes for--if not avoiding a war, at least reducing its impact, on Democratic control of Congress. It's a fundamental misreading of both their importance as an ally and their influence on Washington, for it's a strategy that has already gone wrong.

You would think that what amounts to a historic break with one of the United State's major allies in the Middle East would rate a little more coverage, but the story has vanished from all the major media outlets in less than 24 hours. For it to have an effect, the Saudi's needed the announcement to be the main obsession of the media at least through Monday. They needed politicians to look at the story and say that "if our valued and important ally cannot support us, we should not be waging war in the Middle East," and none were forthcoming. They needed pundits to seize on the story and dwell on it at length, to discuss the difficulty of navigating the treacherous waters of the Middle East without a Saudi pilot at the helm. Instead America gave a collective yawn and moved on.

That'll teach 'em to compete with the NFL.

The impact on the election is going to be nil, thanks to Jesse Ventura and Ariel Sharon and their domination of the current news cycle.

The Princes have uncovered a hole card, looked up, and discovered we stopped playing poker a while ago and left them alone at the table.

We'll see whether they've learned anything from the lack of response to their latest ploy. If they try to play the oil embargo card sometime in the future, the answer to that question will be "no."

Posted by Bigwig at November 4, 2002 02:53 PM | TrackBack
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