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Not Our (big) Fight

Welcome to 2016 – when the actual election starts. It would be easy to say it will be the news story of the year. But as important as it will be a bigger story is developing, as it did in 2015.

The conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam is more than a millenium old. It resonates today because the region is emerging, as so many other developing nations are, away from the thumb of Western influences.

It’s not our fight – and we can probably only make it worse. But it will be hard to stay out of.

The look chummy, but was it all a show?

The look chummy, but was it all a show?

The most recent flare-up has been coming on for years, but has become a lot hotter in the last year. When King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died a year ago his long twilight signaled the end of an era. A younger, more aggressive generation has taken over Saudi Arabia which is intent on flexing its muscle like never before.

As a nation, Saudi Arabia is more or less the personal property of the very wealthy Saud family (hence the name). The wealth that has been amassed from oil sales flows first through the family and only to the nation at their whim.

Abdullah was replaced by 79 year old Salman, his half-brother, and one of the last of his generation. The ministries and departments of government are run by their kids.

ISIL on the march.  Yes, these monsters must be stopped.

ISIL on the march. Yes, these monsters must be stopped.

In the last two years Saudi Arabia has funneled a lot of money into the Syrian conflict, more or less creating ISIS in the process. The latter seems to be an accident, or more accurately the result of not paying attention to what they were doing. The Saudis also marched into Yemen without much concern for long-term effects, either. In both cases they’ve ignited a hot war with Shia Islam where before there was primarily only quiet loathing.

With the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr that conflict is only getting hotter. Relations with Iran have been suspended after the Saudi embassy was attacked and everything is falling rapidly apart.

It may seem naïve to say that they blundered their way into this, but the great limiting factor for Saudi Arabia shows the level of incompetence that has marked their rise in prominence. Deliberately turning on the oil taps to lower the price, the Saudis planned to drive American shale oil out of the market and dominate the oil market as they did in 1974. It was an utter failure and has led directly to the collapse in oil prices. That’s burning up Saudi cash faster than any of their other adventures, leaving them in a weak position to inflame the world.

Demand for oil didn't rise as fast as expected, so supply got ahead of it.

Demand for oil didn’t rise as fast as expected, so supply got ahead of it.

That doesn’t seem to have slowed them down much, however. Some heavy domestic budget cuts will cut off the flow of money to the Kingdom and allow the great adventures to continue. It also will likely increase the domestic turmoil needlessly heated to a boil with the growing conflict with Shia Islam.

These conflicts are sucking the neighboring Gulf States in as well, making for a truly regional conflict.

Where is all of this heading? Saudi Arabia is, supposedly, the one true ally of the US among Arab States. We can only hope that this is immaterial and we can find a way to stay out of this. The Obama administration tried desperately to stay out of the Syria crisis for very good reasons, and to this day is engaged in a very limited way. No one here should want any of this.

It is clear that the price of oil will stay low as nations hungry for cash pump out all they can. A region-absorbing conflict would suddenly invert this and turn off the oil taps, driving up the price.

A truly bad omen for the new year.

A truly bad omen for the new year.

There is no news story that demands more attention in 2016. The potential for tremendous carnage, whipsawing oil prices, and totally out of control terrorism flows naturally. Worse, we can see one of the major actors is completely irresponsible and out for some kind of reckless adolescent adventure.

Nothing good can possibly come from this. That’s why the sight of one of the tallest skyscrapers in Dubai on fire this New Year’s may be more than an omen. This may yet come to be the symbol of a truly terrible year for millions of people caught in the crossfire as a region struggles to assert itself – independent of the Western powers which defined it this far.

It’s not our fight. It will be ugly and it will look like we should be involved, but we do not have a role in this. Staying out will be hard – but essential.

21 thoughts on “Not Our (big) Fight

  1. Oh come on now. The US has propped up the incredibly evil and repressive House of Saud for decades. This is a key reason this country tends to be hated in the Middle East. Saudis did the 9/11 thing, and the US attacked Iraq. Saudi Arabia just did a mass execution of political prisoners without a word of objection from the US Government. This act will be remembered with loathing, like the mass execution of natives in Minnesota in 1862. “It’s not our fight.” Well, it shouldn’t be, but after decades of the most self-serving, ignorant, and harmful meddling in the Middle East, it’s hard to see how the US could extricate itself…..

    • We also created Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak. Our record is horrendous.
      But this is not our fight, though it would be easy to suck us into it.
      We have to pull ourselves out of this and this mess has to be the line. The new aggressively assertive Saudi Arabia is a terrible force for instability and it will only lead to much worse than the horrors we’ve already seen.

      • You know. there are three big powers in the region – Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. The first two are nominally our “allies” – but without any doubt the most contentious of any allies we have.
        Iran is supposedly our greatest enemy. However, I have to say that I have far more respect for them as a nation because they will at least look us in the eyes before they tell us to go screw ourselves. Our supposed “allies”? They both view us as their clients, to use Alan’s term.
        I’d rather deal with Iran all in all, thank you.

  2. Existentially it is not our fight. However, from the standpoint that the Saudi’s are in business with, or have bought many of our foreign policy leaders, we seem unable to extricate ourselves. Just as in the two Iraq wars, we have advanced the Saudi cause by doing their bidding and allowing them simultaneously to spread the idea that the U.S. opposes Islam thus directing Muslim anger towards the United States. Their game is hegemony in the Middle East, with the Sunni/Shia hatred as a tool to inflame. We are more Saudi clients than we are their allies.

    • I agree that we are more their clients – their mercenary force. At least, we have been so far. We can’t do that, especially in a Sunni/Shia fight.
      We’ve been played. We have our own major sources of oil now and don’t have to let that happen.

    • Yes, I think this view has a lot of truth in it. An underlying reality is that the US doesn’t need the Saudi oil. Nobody really does, at the moment, though the Saudis may succeed in spreading enough chaos to limit production in other parts of the Middle East.

      • Exactly. They have dug themselves a terrible hole right now and do not seem to understand it. And they are indeed causing a lot more trouble than they ever used to.

    • They would just assume run US oil out of business, yes. They prefer it when we are dependent on them. And, we should say over and over again, we are not.

  3. Bechtel, Stephen D

    Gender: male

    Nationality: American

    Activity: American industrialist

    (born Sept. 24, 1900, Aurora, Ind., U.S.-died March 14, 1989, San Francisco, Calif.) U.S. construction engineer and president (1936-60) of W.A. Bechtel Co. and its successor, Bechtel Corp. He became a vice president in the San Francisco-based family firm of W.A. Bechtel Co. in 1925. In 1937 he and John McCone formed Bechtel-McCone Corp., a builder of refineries and chemical plants. The companies built ships and made aircraft parts during World War II. After the war, the newly formed Bechtel Corp. became one of the world’s largest construction and engineering firms, building pipelines in Canada, the Middle East, and elsewhere and constructing power plants all over the world. The Bechtel companies helped construct the Hoover Dam, the Alaska oil pipeline, and the city of Al-Jubayl in Saudi Arabia. Bechtel retired as its president in 1960 but remained senior director of what became known as the Bechtel Group.


    • Yes, indeed. Also, he’s been dead a long time – kind of like the generation of Saudi kings who weren’t power-hungry spoiled playboys.
      The more I think about this the more I realize that this is just another example of too much money in the hands of stupid people. That seems to be a big problem lately.

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