Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump: Champion of the KSA-USA Deep State

Because of the snow storms in the northeast Angel Merkel had to push back her White House visit until today (which was buried in a blizzard of headlines about Trump accusing the Brits of collaborating with the Obama administration to eavesdrop on him). This left an opening for Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to have lunch with Trump on Tuesday. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is calling the meeting “a historic turning point” in relations between the two countries.

This will be news to Trump’s lily-white rural base who don't care much for the Saudis. Recent polling shows that close to a super-majority of Republicans think Saudi Arabia is unfriendly at best. Not even 40% of Democrats feel the same way. Trump scored major points during the election when he demanded that the Clinton Foundation return money donated by repressive Gulf monarchies.

So Trump's canoodling with the golden child of al-Saud is a serious about-face, and I think yet more persuasive evidence that no serious de-centering of the U.S. deep state is in the offing. 

At the core of the U.S. deep state is its intimate yet contradictory relationship to the absolutist Gulf monarchies. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- pump a lot of oil and fund most of the Salafist fighters who the United States military is at war with in Eurasia and Africa. GCC member states buy a lot of U.S. arms and are well represented on K Street, not to mention Massachusetts Avenue. Gulf royals are big owners of U.S. corporate wealth; their children attend the finest Ivy League schools. They are more "American" than 99% of America, if being American is defined as owning the country. 

Saudi society is built on bondage, the bondage of foreign workers who are basically chattel to their Saudi sponsors (Medea Benjamin's latest book Kingdom of the Unjust, Behind the US-Saudi Connection is particularly good on the topic). Women are second-class citizens. There is no religious freedom. There are not even movie theaters.

Modern-day Saudi Arabia is synonymous with Saudi Aramco (officially the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, but formerly the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company, and then the Arabian-American Oil Company). From an ontological point of view, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is synonymous with U.S. Big Oil.

For all the talk about Crown Prince Mohammed comparing notes with Trump about starving Yemen, carving up Iraq, attacking Iran, establishing safe zones in Syria, I think the Saudi royal family is concerned more than anything with the IPO for Aramco. The Saudis are expecting a valuation of $2 trillion based on stated reserves of 266 billion barrels, but initial valuations are only one-fifth of that.

A lot is riding on a successful IPO sometime next year, foremost of which is the whole Vision 2030 neoliberal reboot of the Kingdom. For the Aramco valuation to come up closer to the Saudi target the Paris Agreement goal of "keeping global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels" has to be completely repudiated. I doubt that's possible, but Trump is doing his part.

Watch out Iran. Trump is returning the deep state to a much tighter embrace of its Saudi offspring.

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