Monday, March 28, 2011

A US-Saudi Condominium (or Tag Team?) in the Middle East

No, I don't mean a shared condo on the beach (although I suspect our Boy Emperor George and his Saudi cousin Prince Bandar Bush have shared some fun times in such a setting); I mean condominium as originally coined (according to Wikipedia, since 1714 in English): "a political territory (state or border area) in or over which two or more sovereign powers formally agree to share equally dominium (in the sense of sovereignty) and exercise their rights jointly, without dividing it up into 'national' zones." 

What put me on to this is a new Daily Star essay from Mai Yamani, on how "The World Plays Both Sides" when it comes to Middle Eastern democracy.  The US and its allies (including Qatar) claim the prerogative to intercede in Libya (and earlier, in Iraq) based on "humanitarian" concerns and the protection of human rights (unless, of course, the humans who need protecting have somehow run afoul of Israel - reference Gaza in 2008, Lebanon in 2006).  The US's partners, the Saudis (under the cover of the GCC), claim the prerogative to step in on Bahrain under the guise of maintaining "peace and stability" - putatively in a general sense, perhaps more specifically for the flow of oil through the region, but in actuality, to preserve their hyper-Sunni autocratic domination of the Arabian peninsula from possible disturbance, even overthrow, from disenfranchised Shia who comprise a majority of Bahrain's population and are also concentrated in the nearby eastern, oil-producing region of their own kingdom.

It's a nice tag-team, isn't it?

But Yamani's final words warrant notice:
A crude truth has emerged from the charade and hypocrisy of the international response to the Arab revolutions: Despite lofty rhetoric to the contrary, the rights of citizens really are secondary to their countries’ oil wealth. The leaders of oil-rich Arab autocracies have known this for a long time – indeed, their hold on power depends on it. As a result they have proven eager to uphold their side of the bargain by giving Europe and the United States the political support that they needed to legitimize Western military intervention in Libya.

But in this security theater of the absurd – in which Qatar stands for “human rights” in Libya, Saudi Arabia stands for “stability” in Bahrain, and the West tries to stand for both – some leaders are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. The Saudi regime, for example, is linking the Shiites of Bahrain and its own Shiite minority to Iran, and in that way it is only deepening the sectarian divide.

After Neville Chamberlain acquiesced in Nazi Germany’s dismantling of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Winston Churchill famously told him: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war.” In Bahrain, the West – and the United States, in particular – thought the choice was between dishonor and instability. President Barack Obama chose dishonor, and he will get instability.

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