Saturday, December 09, 2006

Friends To The End

Do we even need to ask whether Junior will even bother publicly addressing this "surprise" from the ISG report?

Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.

But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of 96 [sic] because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.

Wonder if this has anything to do with Big Time's recent visit to KSA, the scale of which was said to be largely unprecedented. Naturally, nobody's sayin' nothin'.

But consider. Perhaps you recall those controversial commercials from a few years ago, spoofing the lurid anti-drug campaign, showing quite clearly how our need to fill our bottomless fuck-you-mobiles was only enabling the terrorists. It was a reasonable proposition then, and makes only more sense now.

Of course, it was shouted down at the time, as an unpatriotic campaign designed to make Americans feel bad about their god-given right to flagrantly waste a scarce, volatile resource, instead of simply rethinking their priorities and using it more sensibly.

It was never an all-or-nothing equation; I don't think that even the most hectoring of anti-gas-guzzler Cassandras were saying that we all had to live in hemp communes and ride our bicycles everywhere, man. It was simply modest, sensible goals -- re-establish and improve CAFE standards; utilize "smart growth" techniques to counter suburban/exurban sprawl and waste; rethink the hub-and-spoke distribution network that practically guarantees that the average American's food travels almost 1500 miles before it is consumed.

But now those dirty fucking hippies in the Iraq Study Group, James "Abbie Hoffman" Baker and Lee "Jerry Rubin" Hamilton, are trying to shove their yippie Trotskyite revolution down your throat, man, and fill you in on the consequences of your penis compensation on wheels. It's pretty simple math -- Saudi Arabia produces nothing but oil. Period. That's their entire source of income, disposable and otherwise. And how -- put on your Econ 101 thinkin' caps here, Hummeristas -- can we help take at least some of that disposable zaqat away? By consuming less, maybe?

Of course they have production stop-flow mechanisms to counter that, but eventually the market re-stabilizes at a lower price point equilibrium, even taking into account the current risk premium that keeps the price of oil six times what it was six years ago. At the very least, it could not hurt to conserve. I do not see how that argument can be seriously countered. We all have to get to work; we all have to live our lives; we all should enjoy our lives and recreate and travel. But we don't have to do all those things in 7 mpg monstrosities which leave outsized footprints and have a host of needless externalities.

And as the Sunni/Wahhabi/Salafi drumbeat increases for Saudi intervention, in the name of sectarian protection, we need to consider those consequences as well, in light of our personal and aggregate consumption choices.

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene.

It's simple -- it's a drug, we're the junkies, and they're the pushers. This problem will not be alleviated solely by blast-excavating and slant-drilling every national park and beach. There has to be a sea change in thought, in how we approach our lives and our consumption patterns. This is a problem that is actually at least somewhat within our power to control; the question is whether enough of us are willing to do just one or two little things that will add up in the aggregate, or if we continue to scoff and sneer, while we waste a quarter-billion dollars per day in an increasingly futile effort to power our toys.

It's only going to get worse; the problem is not going to magically disappear just because we ignore it. As John Robb has been astutely pointing out, while we dicker and speculate as to the mental capacity of our elected "leader" to face reality and adapt to it, reality keeps evolving, or in some cases devolving. We are still figuring out the nomenclature and response mechanisms to fourth-generation warfare, while the hot spots are transitioning into the systempunkt and enforced primary loyalties of fifth-generation. It's outpacing our ability to even outline it, much less assess it comprehensively. That's not even on Junior's table; he's just trying to find some straw to clutch at this point.

Infrastructural capacity and institutional loyalty will continue to devolve in these countries, as gangs who profit from smuggling drugs, people -- and yes, oil -- decentralize their tactical patterns to achieve unthinkable ROI ratios, causing millions or even billions of dollars in physical, financial, and economic damage for maybe tens of thousands of dollars invested in weapons acquired through black-market methods in the first place.

The Saudis, in the end, are just looking after their own interests. We may want to begin understanding that there's more than one way that we can set about doing the same. The application of blunt force is no longer a primary or even a tertiary option; the democratized, decentralized level of accessibility to powerful weapons and technology has re-aligned that scenario, as we have seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Really, the lesson of the Soviet Union's demise should have served as a warning in that regard. The Cold War was indeed won without firing a direct shot between us and them, but it was accomplished by an endless series of proxy wars and strategic feints, and ultimately by forcing the Soviets to ramp up their weapons program to a financially unsustainable level. They dropped the accelerator until the engine simply blew up.

Or ran out of gas. Neither one really qualifies as much of a strategy, does it?


Anonymous said...

...and fill you in on the consequences of your penis compensation on wheels.

I used to think it was too facile to reduce nearly everything to an obsession with penises (and I do still think Freud was an utter quack), but I had to modify that a bit the day I saw a Hummer with a pair of bumper nuts attached.

I mean, hell, I don't know what other conclusion could be drawn from that.

RonB said...

There seems to be no easy way to change the consciousness of most people. Anything less than "screw you I take what I want if I earn it" will be decried as 'socialist'.

They'll deny to the end any connection to consumption and the degreadation of the environment(and as you pointed out, conveniently avoid the connection between terror and oil). None of it matters to them as long as they can have their gimme gimme lives.

Heywood J. said...


Yeah, I've seen those bumper nuts a couple times. Pretty much says it all. I think there may also be a certain ratio of height compensation as well. More often than not, the 4x4's and other trucks raised excessively high are driven by short (5'7" or less) men. It's too frequent to be merely coincidental; whether it's causation or correlation, dunno.


It basically boils down to the notion that people don't change unless the cost of not changing becomes greater than the cost (financial, moral, opportunity) of changing.

And of course people will bitch about being lectured to, they always do. But if they hear it enough, from corners that they respect, it does eventually sink in. It will happen at some point, if it isn't starting to already in some pockets. It would be nice if someone in a public position could make the case concisely, that if we make modest adjustments now, we don't have to make drastic adjustments later.

I may be naively optimistic, but I do believe that presented with viable alternatives, many people would sign on to such principles.