Last week Americans heard the news from a trusted commentator of old, Tom Brokaw, that the Saudis are so unhappy with Obama that they have sent emissaries to China and Russia seeking “enhanced ties.” To me, it had the tone of a medieval ballad with lyrics of little kingdoms paying tribute to larger, more powerful ones.
My first thought was of King Ramiro (Spain, c. 850 AD) saying enough to the “maiden tribute” (100 virgins per year) payable to Abderahman II, as had been done by his predecessors. Just what’s with the emissaries… what has poor Obama done now?!
That’s quite a headline, one worth analyzing in two distinct areas: (1) who those Saudis are, and (2) what the enhanced ties they are seeking might be. We’re starting to see the aftereffects caused by that upheaval going on in North Africa and the Middle East.
The Saudi government – and those are the Saudis that Brokaw refers to – has been able to keep things stable and steady by virtue of some “affordable benevolence”… a few billion dollars thrown to the people in jobs and housing in order to calm them down. Affordable benevolence, since the increase in the price of crude during a few months of turmoil will go a long way in paying for the 500,000 low-rent apartments promised and the salaries of 60,000 men to be added to the security force whose mission and sole purpose is the continuation in perpetuity of this Islamic absolute monarchy.
It was rather easy for the ruling House of Saud to quell the “day of rage” in the kingdom a month ago, with not a riyal spent or promised to be spent having to come out of the monarchy’s private coffers. So now we have a better idea of “who” the Saudis are; the Saudis Brokaw was speaking of… not so much a people, but rather a clan of folks divinely given a blue tint in their blood: King Abdullah and his extended family.
But why the need for enhanced ties with Russia and China… that is something else! Although the Saudi government can keep the reins of the country tight and straight, the blue-bloods there know quite well that they cannot be an island. If the political face of North Africa and the Middle East changes, regardless whether the eventual regimes follow democratic or religious paths, chances are that the Saudi rulers will have their days numbered, particularly when foreign workers in Saudi Arabia represent almost 20 percent of the population, most of them from Arab countries, but not necessarily Sunni.
If the Saudi royals blame Obama for the current state of affairs in the two regions, they are being totally foolish. The situation has little to do with idealism emanating from the present White House. Obama has enough problems of his own. America, whether we care to acknowledge it or not, is financially and politically bankrupt and there is little that Obama can do to keep America’s old friends, whether brutal or benevolent tyrants, in power. Those “protective” days are gone, not because Americans have had a change of heart, an injection of social justice and idealism; no, unfortunately that is not the case. Those days are gone, forever gone, for one simple reason: the United States of America is broke; broke, broke, broke: irremediably broke.
Whether the Saudi royals are seeking a new protector, or simply trying to exact a bit of blackmail from the US, is yet to emerge. Regardless what the end game is for the ruling family, they may get better long-term results by seeking accommodation with their Shiite cousins than by substituting protectors outside of the Islamic family.
Here I am writing this column, on a Friday evening, less than two hours from the deadline for a government shutdown if no compromise on the budget is reached by the two parties in Congress. What makes it laughable is that the amount where there is disagreement represents less than 1 percent of the total budget. The funding issues involving this relatively tiny percentage, however, have major political resonance for politicians who know where the votes are; and deceptive whores they are, they want to appear before their political base as faithful to the principles – often ignorant prejudices – that got them elected. Congress will find the way to get a budget passed, the mood of the nation demands it. In fact the news just broke that a deal had been reached less than one hour from the midnight deadline. Politicians are truly consummated actors!
One cannot help but think how Saudi Arabia, regardless who rules the nation, and the United States, with its celebrated democratic capitalism compare as they face the future. Saudi Arabia can easily prepare an economic plan that can realistically forecast the well-being of its citizens in a post oil-depleted future… while America can only offer future generations a debt that will keep them enslaved.
We in America should be asking not just our government and leaders, but ourselves… just what kind of “exceptionalism” will help us get out of the hole we’re in? Is our empire’s implosion just the catalyst for change we need?
Maybe a gravitational collapse is the best thing that can happen to the United States. Perhaps, after giving up that false pride in a stupid and amoral empire, we, with a little luck, can become in a few years a smaller and denser nation – density in this case implying an inner concern for our people, a society where greed becomes once again, after thirty-plus years of economic Reagan-paganism, a vice instead of a virtue.