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January 03, 2005


How do we deal with those problems?

By invading Iraq?


Sorry about the snark. Seriously, by providing a useful alternatives to fundamentalism, by encouraging reforms that will lead to a bigger middle class in states like S.A., and thereby fertile ground for a democracy and decreasing the pool of recruits for the fundamentalists, by providing less support for other dictatorships in the area unless linked to democratic reforms, and by decreasing the need for the precious natural resource that funds the Saudi Arabian dictatorship.

If anyone's thinking of a snap transformation of Saudi Arabia by military means, take a long look at Iraq, and multiply by one hundred.

Muslims will have to work very hard to respond to Saudi/Wahhabi exporting of their own religious beliefs, which has been going on for decades. I don't really see a constructive option here for the US government. Possibly because i don't necessarily think the US government has a vision for international Islam that is even in the interest of Muslims. I assume that when you say "we" or "us" you're referring to the US. As citizens here is what Americans can do: they can be unafraid of educating their kids about the religion of Islam and learning the many different things about it and how the Saudi version is not the norm, rather than being paranoid about their children learning anythign other than what they already know. They can travel in the Mdidle East and learn about it close up. they can read stuff by real Middle Easterners instead of pontificating orientalists in the US press. And they can try to organize independently of their government or to donate to causes that will promote freedoms in the Middle East that will eventually lead the Middle Eastern peoples toward their own, discovered not imposed by others, political freedom and renaissance.

"Second, they have set themselves up as the temporal defenders of Mecca--so any move against the kingdom (even many of the more subtle moves) can be transformed into an attack on the entire Muslim world by people willing to play loose with rhetoric--and the Middle East is nothing if not loose with rhetoric."
Erm, but I don't think they would consider consider this an attack on the muslim world anymore than they consider the siding with Israel is an attack on the muslim world, it would prolly be seen as less, IMHO. I don't think this is a good reason to leave SA alone.

Culturally, I think it's much more than the fact that the Saudi regime controls Mecca. You have a very insular society having a great deal of trouble adapting to the modern world. In the short term, opening up the closed Saudi culture is going to (continue to be) painful. I would expect that would make the lead to more violence and upheaval before settling down.

Sebastian's identification of the 'problems' associated with SA and Islamic fundamentalism inadventently demonstrates the folly of the Iraqi misadventure and the larger phony war on terror. That is, we are told the threat is grave and at our doorstep, yet we're told we don't have to make any economic sacrifices to confront this threat.

If SA and Islamic fundamentalism pose such a threat to us--why are we concerned with the economic implications of SA's oil? If the threat is so imminent and dire, why are we more concerned about keeping gas at about $1.75/gal or less? If someone has a knife to your throat, your concern shouldn't be about messing up your suit in fighting off your assailant.

Of course, the premise is faulty and misplaced. Islamic fundamentalism doesn't pose the great threat advertised by this appointed administration. The extent Islamic fundamentalism poses a threat could be more effectively addressed via diplomacy and policy initiatives.

How do we deal with those problems?

Fuel conservation. Biodiesel. Solar power. Wind power. Required fuel efficiency ratings. Support for fuel cell technology.

I've been trying to find a NYTime article that points out that though SA is responsible for only 15% of our oil imports, we enable it because we allow the price of oil to remain so high. And if we can find a magic bullet (or three) we can export it.

One thing about oil that people seem to be forgetting is that it gives the Saudi government leverage over the United States. Americans don't like it when other countries are in the drivers' seat. And when prices are high, there's no urgency to undertake painful reforms, since the regime can essentially buy off the bulk of the public.

The real danger at this point is not what the US does or does not do but what al Queda and the Saudi people do. I am surprised that more attacks on the oil fields have not taken place already. Over throw of the House of Saud is one on bin Laden's prime objectives and a majority of the Saudi people are bin Laden supporters. I suggest we are in big trouble because a disruption of Saudi oil is likely sooner rather than latter.

I've heard (and praktike can correct me on this if I am wrong) that analysts suggest that AQ hope to effect a takeover/palace coup in SA, and if they were to do something (dirty nuke) to disrupt Saudi oil, they would be killing the golden goose. This is why, I think, attacks have been rather diffident and targeted at foreigners in SA.

I am surprised that more attacks on the oil fields have not taken place already.

SA spent nearly $6B on oil industry security in 2003. Put in perspective, that's 75% of what Canada spends on defense annually.

On oil, our own efficiency and dependence makes little difference, I think. Not just the fungibility:

1) We need the new markets created by rapid development in India & China, and the rest of the third world.
2) You simply are not going to get that rapid development without reasonably priced oil
3) But developing new technologies in energy production and conservation would give us a nice product and service line to sell to a third world that is going to desperately need it.

I was hoping praktike would have SA solved by the time I woke up this morning. Three points:

1) The religious weapon might be overstated, I think IIRC that Egypt has more universally respected Sunni scholars. And taking the NE oil fields while leaving the Holy Sites alone might not cause a mass Islamic uprising. But I don't know, and with a billion+ faithful it wouldn't take a total revolt to be a problem.
2) The economic weapon might be understated. It is not just oil, the Saudis are invested in many economies.
3) The biggest mystery to me of the last few years has been the Bushco/Saudi relationship. I do not believe Bush/Cheney are Saudi puppets, or complete oil allies, but the lifelong family friendship has to mean something.
4) I put some hopes in a competitive moderate Shiite expansion. I want the umma to have oprions.

There's this (via boing-boing) And it certainly would be a lot less threatening.

Personally, I quite agree with your statement:

"Islamic fundamentalism doesn't pose the great threat advertised by this appointed administration. The extent Islamic fundamentalism poses a threat could be more effectively addressed via diplomacy and policy initiatives."

But, in the interest of bolstering your argument on this point, I'd first knock off the "appointed Administration" stuff: not that this alone would ever make a dent in the war-hawks' blinkered surety re the "fatal" threat of Islamist radicalism, but dredging up last year's meme only makes the argument look shrill and/or partisan.
Secondly, while a rational case could be made (and CAN be made) that Islamist fundamentalism, even in its extreme form of al-Qaeda-style terrorism has been overstated as an "existential" threat (see caveat below), rationality does not (and has not) seem to come into play WRT the American public's (and, playing into this, the Bush Administration's) conceptions of how the issue should be handled. Emotionalism plays a much larger part in the public's attitudes towards Islamism - with 3,030 essentially unanswerable arguments ready to hand to counter ANY assertion about the relative "threat" of Islamic fundamentalism.
Rational or not, the impulse towards violent, bloody revenge for the 9/11 attacks has informed the American people's and their Government's policy towards the Muslim world for the past three years. While I agree with your premise, unfortunately, the initiatives that have been (and probably will continue to be) applied to the Islamist-fundamentalist "threat" will be mainly military, and, in all likelihood, increasingly violent. Because that's what John Q. Public wants.

CAVEAT: I am leaving nuclear-related terrorism out of discussion for now: another subject, and one which, IMO. is indeed an "existential" threat.

but dredging up last year's meme only makes the argument look shrill and/or partisan

But it lends so much weight to the argument.

Jay C:

Thank you for your kind and perceptive comments.

Taking your points, one by one: First, it's not a meme if it's true. Aside telling your Aunt Sally her dress "really" makes her look thin, we should never be afraid of speaking the truth. Unlike some, I don't pretend to be non-partisan.

Second, you are quite correct--rationality hasn't entered into the picture. But that's a function of leadership, something that's sadly lacking in our appointed administration. I've always wondered what our reaction might have been if we were attacked not by Islamic extremists but by caucasian extremists from, say, Norway.

"great threat advertised by this appointed administration"

Didn't Richard Clarke also say that terrorism was the biggest threat. It's hard to blame it all on the appointed administration with the facts and all. I also think it is safe to say there are about 3,000 people who used to work at the WTC who would disagree with that statement.


How high is the price of oil?

Back in the early 70's you get get oil for about $.50/gallon. Now $1.75.

My home at that time was about $12,000. Now it is work $275,000.

A coke was about $.5. Now it is about $1.00.

Please feel free to prove me wrong, but oil is about one of the cheapest things out there that the average person used 40 years ago and still uses today.

Atleast we seem to agree that Bush really didn't do it for the oil with such high prices. Because if he did he sure did a crappy job.

But, I also think that S.A. does have a little to say about what the price of oil is. I only wish we could go in and tell them how much their oil should cost.

we should never be afraid of speaking the truth

Particularly if it's irrelevant and diversional, and largely dependent on an elaborate belief system. Sure, do go on bringing up stuff that's not only untrue, but utterly beside the point. As I said, it lends much more body to comments than just sticking with the subject.

I think you are looking at the cost of gas as oil prices are measured by the barrel and costs are apparently sky-high. (btw, I also don't think that gas is appropriately priced in the US, which led to me casting my first presidential vote for Anderson, back in the day)

Unless the Saudis have some revenue source other than oil, every dollar they earn presumably allows them to fund the exportation of Wahhabism. If you disagree with the fact "Saudi Arabia is a big part of the problem in the spread of the dangerous side of fundamentalist Islam", I think you should take it up with Sebastian (and Charles Bird in his other post)

LJ, the cost of oil isn't even at a historical high, adjusted for inflation. Undisputably, it's high. Just let's not go overboard, here.

I didn't say historic high, I just used the same 'sky-high' that the article uses. But if we are talking about the historic highs, from the website that StanLS gave in the other thread about Wahhabism
While the Wahhabis have always been sympathetic to Sunni Muslim extremists and evidence exists that they have supported such people financially as early as a century ago, the real Saudi offensive to spread Wahhabism aggressively and support kindred extremist groups world-wide began in the mid-1970s, when the kingdom reaped an incredible financial windfall with rocketing oil prices after Riaydh’s imposition of an oil embargo in 1973. “It was only when oil revenues began to generate real wealth,” says a government publication, that “the kingdom could fulfill its ambitions of spreading the word of Islam to every corner of the world.”

I would also suggest that it doesn't help the discussion by comparing the price of coca-cola to the price of gasoline when I'm talking about oil.

Given that we all seem to agree that reducing the economic leverage that Saudi Arabia has would be a good thing, shall we take the next logical step and propose that governments in the West and Pacific Rim should increasingly subsidize the development of more energy efficient industrial processes as well as alternative energy sources?

This has nothing to do with any environmental issues, although that would be a nice side benefit. Oh, and the resulting technologies could potentially be exported to developing economies in Asia and elsewhere providing additional economic and security benefits.

A non-constructive answer here, I'm afraid:

How do we deal with those problems?

By being prepared to make real sacrifices as a nation. And then actually sacrificing.


I didn't make a comment about S.A. and the spread of Wahhabism. So I really don't get your point about why I need to consult with Sebastian.

In your post I thought you said:

"I've been trying to find a NYTime article that points out that though SA is responsible for only 15% of our oil imports, we enable it because we allow the price of oil to remain so high."

And then you said:

"I also don't think that gas is appropriately priced in the US, which led to me casting my first presidential vote for Anderson, back in the day)"

Anderson wanted to tax gas at .50 cents. So which is it too high or too low?

As far as talking about gas/oil they sort of go hand in hand, so I am not sure your point is relevant there either.

Oil was about 12 bucks/barrel vs. today at $42/barrel.

We can't tell S.A. how to price their oil. It would be nice, but it isn't reality. Claiming that we keep prices high just isn't accurate either. It would be more accurate to say we fight to keep them low.

So on one hand you want higher gas prices cause you voted for Anderson, but then you also claim we keep prices artificially high.

I guess it is safe to say I am confused about why you made those comments about the price of oil. They really seem like a cheap shot at the oil companies.

If you had just commented that oil is crucial to S.A. and A.Q. then I would have not said anything and that we need to explore alternatives.


"I would also suggest that it doesn't help the discussion by comparing the price of coca-cola to the price of gasoline when I'm talking about oil."

I just want to emphasize that the increase in gas and in oil is about the same. They have both increased in price by 4 to 5 times in the last 30 years.

So nitpick all you want. The facts and conclusion is still the same.

Maybe religious fundamentalism in general is going through one of its periodic upswings.

It strikes me as interesting that Islamic anti-progressive, apocalyptic fundamentalism began a comeback at about the same time (in the 1970's) that Christian anti-progressive, apocalyptic fundamentalism began a comeback in the US. The two mirror each other to an eerie extent, esp. in their rhetoric and philosophy. That they feed off each other cannot be disputed: each has become the Big Bad the other needs to justify itself and as a spur to call for global conflict.

Much scorn has been heaped upon Bill Clinton for regarding international terrorism as a criminal matter more than a military matter. But - correct me if I'm wrong - the countries that have rounded up the most terrorist cells and prevented terrorist attacks have used law enforcement procedures, not military action.

We, on the other hand, have created more terrorists and reinvigorated more terrorist organizations, with the very badly planned and handled war in Iraq.

That, to me, argues heavily in favor of getting down off the Apocalyptic/Messianic high horse, and dealing with terrorism as a criminal matter, not a call to global conflict.

Not only because law enforcement apparently works better.

But also because we need to starve, not feed, the fundamentalist Zeitgeist.

I didn't make a comment about S.A. and the spread of Wahhabism. So I really don't get your point about why I need to consult with Sebastian.

Despite the title of the post. Are you trying to make me break my new year's resolution?

There are many solutions. Energy conservation and alternative energy are long-term issues, and they won't address the more immediate threat, which is the spread of heretical Wahhabism. Any military action against Saudi Arabia will be seen as an attack against the birthplace of Islam; it's not off the table but it is teetering on the edge.

Here's my ten-point plan:
(1) aggressive and confrontational diplomacy with Saudi Arabia, with the goal of loosening and cutting ties with the Wahhabist sect;
(2) divestment from the Saudi economy until such progress is made;
(3) an educational campaign on the Wahhabi/Qubti branches of Islamic belief, which are root causes, in order for the public to realize what it is and the scope of its influence;
(4) pursuing Wahhabi funding sources and freezing and confiscating their money;
(5) identifying Wahhabi-influenced organizations in America and worldwide, and taking direct action to defund and discredit them;
(6) backing, with moral and financial support, the more enlightened branches of Islam;
(7) continue to pursue freedom and democracy in unfree Muslim-majority countries;
(8) recruiting the most prominent, tolerant and enlightened imams and mullahs to issue fatwahs and pursue the Sufi, Hanafi and similar traditions, in effect helping them reform Islam from within
(9) continue the full-court press on al Qaeda
(10) on Palestine-Israel, the January 9th election is a good sign, but we should take the necessary steps to democratize and reform the Palestinian Authority.

other than inserting "help" in a few of those items, Charles, I'd say that's a pretty good list (i.e., "take the necessary steps to "help" democratize and reform..."; sounds a little less like it needs to happen via the barrel of a gun that way).

Charles - to follow up on what Edward said, your list is a good one, although several of the items are areas where the West can only aid and influence, not directly control.

I'd also add that, like conservation and alternative energy sources, many of the items on your list will also not produce immediate results. Sadly, I suspect that commercially viable fuel cells will be developed long before there's any lasting progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. That's not to say that these things shouldn't be pursued, I just would not ignore efforts to reduce our economic dependence on SA and other potentially unstable regions.

Fuel cells aren't the cure-all, just to be clear. Most of the fuel cell designs just effectively increase the production of CO2 and other pollutants.

Slarti - fuel cells were just the first high profile technology that came to mind. Substitute whatever item you like, including perpetual motion machines made of pure unobtanium; their R&D cycle may be no longer than the time it will take to bring about a peaceful resolution to the various issues in the Middle East.

I'm rooting for population reduction, myself, but I'm stymied as to how to accomplish significant reduction in less than several hundred years in a way that doesn't seriously mess with my karma.

Still, imagine how many problems might get a good deal smaller if world population were stabilized under a billion. For one, waterfront property might get a little more affordable :p

Me, I'm counting on global warming to get a deal on waterfront property :-) Heck, the EPA has even produced some handy maps to help out.

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