Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Iran War Looms

The problem with the rich is that they are out of touch with reality as lived by the overwhelming majority of the world's population, the 99%. The problem for the overwhelming majority of us who populate the 99% is that the rich run the world. 

Billionaire royals govern the Gulf Cooperation Council; these are the leaders to whom this week in Washington Obama will be pitching the P5+1 accord on Iran's nuclear program. Citizens of the "indispensable nation" will be treated to the unseemly spectacle of their elected leader feting despots.

The GCC has registered its disapproval of the P5+1 negotiations. Only two of six heads of state will be in attendance. Saudi King Salman, after indicating last Friday that he would come to Washington, has cancelled. This has caused some soul searching of the special relationship between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reach the front page of the "newspaper of record."

As far as it goes, "King’s Absence at Meeting Signals a Saudi-U.S. Marriage Adrift," by Peter Baker and Michael Shear (labeled "News Analysis") is a so-so summary of the recent estrangement of the House of Saud with Obama. The reporters even toss in an acknowledgement of what the Gray Lady has previously denied -- that the Saudi-engineered oil-price drop was a conspiracy hatched with the U.S. to punish Russia:
In the 70 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz, the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been a complicated marriage of shared interests, clashing values and cynical accommodations. The common denominator was a desire for stability. But now the two sides define that differently. 
For Mr. Obama, a diplomatic agreement with Iran curbing its nuclear program offers the strongest chance of keeping conflict in the region from escalating. For the Sunni-led Saudi government, the relaxation of sanctions in the proposed deal would simply give Iran, a predominantly Shiite state, billions of dollars to foment more instability around the region. 
While the Americans and the Saudis are now cooperating to fight the Islamic State, Riyadh wants more action to force out the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, while Mr. Obama has been reluctant to intervene. Similarly, while Mr. Obama has portrayed the drive for greater democracy in the region as a force for good, the Saudis see the still simmering Arab Spring movement as a threat to their hold on power. 
In the midst of all that, the politics of energy have shifted along with the surge in oil production in North Dakota and Texas. No longer so dependent on foreign crude, the United States can flex muscles without worrying about the Saudis cutting its energy supply. Yet Washington still relies on Riyadh to keep the price of oil low to pressure Russia’s energy-based economy in the standoff over Ukraine.
Iran is a rising power. It has far more "people power" behind it than anything the GCC can muster. The only broadly popular active initiative that the Obama administration is supporting -- it is certainly not the TPP or drilling in the Arctic -- is the peace deal with Iran.

One huge problem with the rich, and particularly the super-rich, is that they believe that their money can alter any reality. So you have the unprecedented Netanyahu appearance before a joint session of Congress in March, a foreign leader using "the people's House" as a backdrop for a campaign commercial, criticizing a sitting president's chief foreign policy initiative, an appearance that was apparently facilitated by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The no show by King Salman is more of the same.

But one hopeful note sounded by Ben Hubbard in an accompanying story, "Despite Displeasure With U.S., Saudis Face Long Dependency," is that money doesn't always buy love. Take for instance the reticence of Egypt and Pakistan, despite billions spent by al-Saud, to supply cannon fodder for Yemen:
Saudi Arabia has, however, asked for help from fellow Muslim countries like Pakistan in its Yemen campaign. But despite bankrolling the Pakistani nuclear program and offering other aid over the years, the Saudis were shocked when the Pakistani parliament unanimously voted not to send troops.
Egypt, whose government has been kept afloat by billions of dollars in Persian Gulf aid in recent years, has also declined to send ground troops. 
Despite the reluctance of would-be allies to step up, the gulf nations appear to be at the beginning of what could be a long process of learning to rely more on themselves and other allies. 
“They would prefer for the U.S. to be the godfather and protector, but they also realize that they have to stand on their own feet,” Dr. Seznec said.
Hubbard's story is useful in that it clearly outlines the deep, structural ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The special relationship is not going to end in divorce:
Decades of cooperation and billions of dollars in weapons contracts have left the gulf nations deeply entwined with the United States and Britain in ways that cannot be quickly undone, analysts say. Qatar hosts the largest United States air base in the region, and Bahrain is the home port of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. And their efforts to make reliable military partners of fellow Muslim nations like Pakistan and Egypt have met little success, despite tens of billions of dollars in aid.
American-made fighter jets are being used in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, but “none of these airplanes would fly if the United States refused to send parts,” Dr. Seznec said. ["Jean-Francois Seznec, a professor of Persian Gulf political economy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.']

[T]he Saudis remain heavily reliant on the United States, and to a lesser extent on Britain, in nearly every branch of their security apparatus. 
“The Saudi air force could not carry out day-in, day-out bombing missions without help from U.S. trainers and maintenance experts and the flow of spare parts and ammunition,” said Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, speaking about the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen.
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service said Saudi Arabia’s decision to update and expand its air force with American F-15 fighter jets would perpetuate Saudi reliance on parts and training provided by the United States military and defense contractors.
The United States is also involved in training the army and modernizing the Saudis’ national guard, and American advisers paid for by the Saudi government are “embedded in industrial, energy, maritime and cybersecurity offices within the Saudi government,” the report said.
Saudi Arabia, the United States and Britain also have close intelligence ties, with top officials from the three countries meeting frequently and sharing information.
In addition, contracts for fighter jets include agreements on maintenance, spare parts and software upgrades that can go on for years, Mr. Riedel said, keeping the countries’ security operations bound tightly together far into the future.
Dr. Seznec, of the School of Advanced International Studies, estimates that Saudi Arabia has spent about $500 billion to build its military in the last 20 years. About three-quarters of that money has gone to the United States.
“Those are huge amounts of money,” he said.
What motivates the realpolitik bloc behind Obama's peace initiative with Iran is the realization that to do otherwise means an eventual war, sooner now than later. The Saudi/Israeli bet is that whoever succeeds Obama will be amenable to scrapping the P5+1 accord, assuming it is finalized, which is anything but certain, and to maintaining the financial architecture of Iranian sanctions; or, absent that, another war.

The big hurdle in all of this for the billionaire despots and the deep state power brokers who answer to them is public opinion. Maybe I am wrong here, but I don't think the public will stomach an Iran war. If one is launched, it will destroy the country. But that is where things are heading.

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