Huffington Post pulls out its resident Saudi-basher to pick up the slack and catch up with other media reports critical of Saudi Arabia over the past week. The article is so detached from reality that one wonders whether Huffington Post readers are either very dim or the blog thinks that they are.
I am quoting below the various points the writer tries to make and answer them individually.
On July 27 the New York Times reported that the Bush Administration, otherwise somnolent on matters Saudi, was voicing increasing anger at Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq War, much in the manner of Claude Rains’ disbelieving exhortation to Humphrey Bogart, “I’m shocked, I’m shocked” in that great movie classic, Casablanca. Then, true to form, only two days later the same administration announced plans for a huge arms sale of highly sophisticated weaponry to the very same Saudis. The administration will need the approval of Congress to proceed. I would like to suggest a few question to be asked of the administration before the bill is passed, including:
Â» Has the Saudi Arabian Government stopped Saudi financing of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq through charity fronts and otherwise, and how will this interdiction be monitored?
Why, yes it has! The Saudi government has completely regulated the collection and distribution of charitable funds. It has worked with both the US and the UN to declare both individual Saudis and Saudi organizations as supporters of terrorism and to freeze their funds globally. Has this completely stopped the flow of money from individual Saudis to terrorist organizations? No, not completely. As I’ve noted before, with most of private Saudi funds being held outside the Kingdom, there is little that the government can do to control money flows occurring outside it reach. It also cannot catch every briefcase filled with cash that may move through its airports, though the government has recently imposed currency restrictions.
Â» Has Saudi Arabia taken the needed steps to end the flow of Saudi nationals from entering Iraq, enlisting in the insurgency and becoming the largest group of foreign fighters engaged as suicide bombers?
Again, it has taken steps, but exactly what it can do is limited to a large degree. As Saudis do not need exit visas to leave the country, there is no control over Saudi nationals leaving the country. Where they go once they’ve departed is something that can be monitored, but not stopped by the Saudi authorities. The government does examine passports when a traveler returns to the KSA. This can result in enhanced monitoring of that individual and his inclusion on suspect databases (which are, incidentally, shared with the FBI). They have also cracked down on the issuance of replacement passports for young men who conveniently ‘lose’ their passports, suspecting that the loss is really just a cover excuse to avoid the identification of actual travel plans. But young men intending on making one-way trips to Iraq are nearly impossible to identify before hand. To get complete control, the government would have to ban travel by all young Saudis, a step it is unwilling to take. Consider how Americans would react to the imposition of a similar restriction on young Americans’ travel.
Â» How will Saudi Arabia monitor its 814 kilometer border with Iraq and make it impenetrable to clandestine movement of equipment, men and funding in support of those interests intent on sabotaging the Iraqi government and presenting grave danger to coalition forces (please see post “Iraq’s Oil Production at Post Invasion Lows. Cui Bono?,” 4/02/06)?
Currently, there are both ground patrols and patrols by drone aircraft along the border. There is also a network of electronic sensors along some parts of the border. Border crossings are manned 24/7 and known smuggling routes are under constant surveillance—not only on the Iraq border, but the Yemeni border as well. Whether or not Saudi Arabia will build a physical fence along the border was batted back and forth last year. I think a look at the US border with Mexico tells us how effective border control can actually be in the real world.
Â» What steps will the Saudis take to eliminate the rhetoric of jihad, and hate directed at Western and American society, Christians, Hindus, Shiites and Jews from the state supported imams and religious centers in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi funded madrassas, mosques and religious centers around the world.
Other than jailing recalcitrant imams? Other than putting teachers through new training programs and changing the textbooks? Other than holding high profile ‘National Dialogues’, televised nationally, extolling the virtues of tolerance and moderation? Other than regaining control over the content of ‘summer camps’ for youths? Other than media campaigns condemning extremism? I’m not sure what steps are left to be taken. The results of those steps is going to take time, of course, something Mr. Learsy seems to discount totally.
Â» What long overdue steps will the Saudis take to begin liberalizing their society starting at the very least by enfranchising and imparting civil rights to their women citizens?
Bravo for Mr. Learsy on knowing which steps the Saudis should take first in their reform efforts! He’s doing better than the Saudis themselves. Saudi media, both Arabic and English, is consumed with the debates about reform in the country. The Ministry of Labor has pushed for employment of women, opening new sectors. The government has enabled women to assert their own identities, starting with their right to individual ID cards. Women are taking part in—and sometimes winning—elections for positions in non-governmental organizations like the Chambers of Commerce & Industry.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, in its report last year, found that the Saudi media had considerably more freedom than it had in the past. It’s not perfectly free, not by a long shot, but it is growing in its authority and ability to discuss issues that were forbidden even five years ago.
Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to religious freedom, trafficking in humans, and other human rights. Being at the bottom, though, does not mean that the government has decided to ignore them. All of these are being addressed at a pace the Saudi government feels is appropriate. There is certainly room to argue about that pace and the extent of reforms. There is not room to argue that they are not taking place.
Â» The United States and a fleet of vessels from other nations patrol the Arabian Gulf in essence riding shotgun for Saudi oil loadings and in actuality protecting both her ports and insuring her national integrity. Such patrols are both in the interest of the participating nations as it is in even greater measure to Saudi Arabia’s. The cost of this enterprise to the participating national treasuries approaches $100 million dollars a day. Will Saudi Arabia understand that they have an obligation to share at least half the costs being incurred?
Here’s a big slice of baloney. The US maintains a fleet presence in the Gulf for its own purposes. That Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States benefit is nice for them. But we don’t send bills for collateral benefits. If that were the case, I think Mr. Learsy owes me several hundred dollars for improving general American knowledge about Saudi Arabia by confronting the nonsense he spouts. I’m protecting him from the consequences his own ignorance, after all. What? He didn’t want that protection? Too bad. I’m providing it; he can pay for it.
Â» Lack of transparency in oil markets and poor quality of information contribute to volatility and uncertainties,” so the International Monetary Fund’s truism seconded by the Group of Seven (G-7) urging producing countries to lift the veil of secrecy and share data on output and reserves — Saudi Arabia has steadfastly refused to do so. Not an idle nor in the least unreasonable request given that so much of the world’s economy, as its economic forward planning, is dependent on this data. Will Saudi Arabia recognize its responsibility and provide this data henceforward?
Here, there’s a part of a point. It would certainly make things easier for international markets if there were perfect transparency in the oil markets. That’s not the case, though, as Saudi Arabia and other countries consider this information to be strategically sensitive. Not all countries do so, of course, even man oil-producing states. But I must have missed the lesson in International Relations where they covered the law stating that all states must hand over all information just to keep the markets happy.
Â» In the summer of 2004, during the U.S. election campaign, the Saudis announced that they would be increasing oil production capacity to 11.3 million barrels a day, and if called upon to do so, could up production to 12 million bbls/day in short order. Have the Saudis ever met this pledge? They are now pumping barely 9.5 million bbls/day.
Yes, the Saudis promised this increase in production. They promised it by 2009. My calendar reads ’2007′. Saudis are ramping up production and are on course to reach that production level by 2009.
Â» n mid 2004 Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, with oil prices reaching into the $30/bbl declared himself, one more time, to be in favor of the cartel’s then broadcast $22-$28 target range. He went on to comment however that “the market desires a price of $35 because it’s frightened of [the price rising to] $50.” He went on to repeat his old saw that the Saudis too were “frightened” of that price because it might damage the world economy and propel the search for alternative energy sources. That was then and this is now with oil prices ranging into the $77/bbl, a staggering increase of over 50% from the already high $49.90/bbl price this January. This is an almost unprecedented move over such a constrained time period for a commodity of such major significance as oil. And this without an apparent trigger other than the restraint of production by OPEC, read Saudi Arabia. The question then becomes when will the Saudis put enough oil on the market to bring it back, at very least, to the potentially destabilizing $50/bbl level feared by them not so very long ago.
This is true, as far as it goes. But a lot has changed in the 2.5 years since al-Naimi’s remark. For one thing, world demand for oil has skyrocketed, pushed largely by huge increases in demand from Asia. That upset the applecart when it came to pricing. As prices rose, the world—the US included—found that it could live with considerably higher prices without falling into global economic depression. That’s changed completely the way the world looks at oil pricing and its definition of what’s ‘reasonable’.
The Saudis are still interested in not causing a world depression. Not only would vast amounts of Saudi wealth be lost in a depression, but demand for oil—the country’s largest source of income—would also fall, worsening the effect. Because people are annoyed at high prices at the pump does not mean that the cause is solely in the price of oil at the well head. That kind of thinking completely ignores not only the market for oil, but the many-stepped processes in converting oil into gasoline, each step subject to its own failings and problems.