The US Loves Dictators and Volatility in the Middle East – Q&A (Pt 5/6)
Paul Jay says US policy in the Middle East is not aimed at defending national security, but is primarily driven by the interests of arms and fossil fuel industries – From a live recording on October 16th, 2018
BEN NORTON: So one of the things that is being mentioned which I think is key, which we haven’t mentioned, is, of course, the petrodollar. Saudi Arabia has the second-largest oil reserves in the world; it is the largest oil exporter, although the U.S. now claims to be that. But it has traditionally been the largest oil exporter. It does huge oil deals with the U.S., but also with many other countries, including some U.S. adversaries.
And on the question- I’m going to go back to one of Trump’s comments here before we discuss petrodollars, because although arms sales are an important part, petrodollars are, as well. And here I’m going to cut to a clip where Trump is talking about the military-industrial complex, and he was asked if he would consider imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Of course, if he imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia, not only would that stop arms sales, it would potentially stop oil deals, as well. Here’s a clip in which Trump names individual weapons contractors that are in the U.S. that would benefit from his arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
DONALD TRUMP: I oppose, I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion, which is an all-time record, and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money. Because all they’re going to do is say, that’s okay, we don’t have to buy it from Boeing, we don’t have to buy it from Lockheed, we don’t have to buy it from Raytheon, and all these great companies. We’ll buy it from Russia, we’ll buy it from China. So what good does that do us? There are other things we could do.
BEN NORTON: Those were, of course, U.S. weapons contractors that Trump was acknowledging; Raytheon, Lockheed Martin. And then of course he didn’t mention Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, other oil companies. Getting back to this person’s question about the petrodollar, which I think links all of this together, the oil, fossil fuels, and arms sales, Paul, can you talk about why is the petrodollar so important for the global economy? And why is that, of course, a key part of the U.S.-Saudi special relationship?
PAUL JAY: I’ve got no expertise in this whatsoever, so I’m not going to speak on it. I’m not saying I have even expertise on the other issues, but I know more.
So let me- I’m sorry not to directly answer what you’re asking, but let me add something which indirectly may answer it. What makes money for arms manufacturers? What makes money for fossil fuel producers? What makes money for finance? Volatility. You want an unstable world. Now, if you’re selling retail products, whether it’s computers or shoes, or whatever, you don’t profit from volatility. Certainly not the way finance profits, because they get, they know ahead of time where the volatility’s coming from, at least to a large extent they do. Clearly arms manufacturers love most war. They love war. But maybe they love almost war better. So the more threats there are- there’s a guy in the First World War named Zaharoff. He became known as the merchant of death. He used to place ads in the German press telling how the French were buying machine guns. And then he, these new things that were coming. And he put in the French press that the Germans were buying, and he would sell to both of them. And this is a long tradition in the arms industry, to make sure countries are on the edge of war with each other.
Then, of course, what happens if the Saudis, if there’s a real conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Iranians start lobbing bombs on Saudi oil facilities, and vice versa? I mean, the price of oil goes to, what, $300? $400? I mean, who can imagine what happens to the price of oil? So when Trump says- and we know it’s true that the United States is producing maybe the most oil in the world now. Well, then, who’s going to profit from that, if oil prices start hitting these $300-400?
Now, let me go back to something I started with. This does not help the national security of ordinary people. It threatens it. These kinds of volatility, this kind of volatility, does not help the economic well being of the American people, either. If the price of oil starts hitting $300, it’s not just that it’s going to be crazy at the gas pump filling up, you know, your tank of gas. It’s going to trigger a deep recession in the United States, and in the West. And the Trump administration, I think, is conflicted here, because they have a lot of backing from fossil fuel, which- they love these crazy high oil prices. On the other hand, you don’t get reelected with a recession. So I think they’re kind of caught here. But these things tend to have their own momentum.
The petrodollar itself, honestly, I don’t have enough to say about it. But the kind of wealth generated that the Saudis are in control of, as they said earlier, they cannot control this wealth in a way that defies the American empire and get away with it. And so, I mean, MBS either comes into line or his days are numbered.
BEN NORTON: And another comment that people are mentioning is, of course, Saudi Arabia’s alliance with Israel. And I want to get to that in a moment here. I think this is a key factor in understanding the special relationship- you know, the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia work together to control the Middle East.
Before we do that, I want to incorporate another point that I wanted to ask you, Paul, and that’s about the kind of mainstream media obsession with Mohammed bin Salman, at least until last week, until earlier this month. For the past two years, many leading pundits have been portraying Mohammed bin Salman as essentially the savior of the Middle East, if not of the world. And I’m going to play a clip here from Thomas Friedman. He’s probably the most egregious example. But Thomas Friedman is a powerful New York Times columnist; a so-called expert on the Middle East. And he, of course, supported the Iraq War and many other wars. And he has really gone to bat for Mohammed bin Salman for the last two years, portraying him as a reformer who’s going to save the region. And here’s a clip from an event he did recently in which Thomas Friedman actually said ‘F— you’ to critics of the Crown Prince.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I got news for you. The entire Arab world is dysfunctional right now. Completely dysfunctional. And I think it has the potential to be a giant Yemen. A giant human disaster area. And so when I see someone having the balls to take on the religious component of that, to take on the economic component, to take on the political- with all of his flaws, okay? And with all due respect to his cousins, not one of them would have had the balls to do that. I want to invest just a little, I just want to stick my head up and say, God, I hope you succeed. And when you do that, the holy hell comes down on you. Okay? Well, [fuck that], okay, is my view.
BEN NORTON: That was Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, a Pulitzer Prize winner. When he said cousins, he was reference Mohammed bin Salman’s purge of his cousins that challenged his ascendance to the throne. He put some in prison, he put some effectively in prison in the Ritz Carlton.
So I’m asking you two different things here, Paul, but I think they’re related, and I think we can connect them. Of course, Mohammed Salman has been pretty open about his support for Israel. Here in the U.S. he did a tour throughout the country and met with many prominent people. And one of the most interesting things is he met with pro-Israel groups here in the U.S. and assured support for pro-Israel groups. So in the past month, I think a lot of this dream has been crushed. We’ve seen the Khashoggi killing was probably a step too far. But I’m wondering, before this month when things changed and Mohammed Salman went too far off the leash, what role do you think Saudi Arabia’s role as a country that not only would counter Iran, but would continue supporting Israel at a time when, you know, Israel is massacring protesters in Gaza, when Israel is carrying out periodic wars in Gaza, continuing the colonization of the West Bank, what role do you think that plays in this, as well? I do think it’s an important one.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, let me … let me deal with something else first with Friedman’s thing, because I don’t think what he’s talking about is directly about Israel. [Crosstalk] But I think Friedman says something very important there. And why were they so enthusiastic about MBS? I was reading today something, an article by Elliot Abrams, the neocon foreign policy guy responsible for much of the Middle East under the Bush administration, saying the same thing almost word for word that Friedman was saying, and just regretting what’s going on now, because he had been such an MBS supporter- in terms of Khashoggi.
I think the Arab Spring scared the shit out of all of these people. It didn’t end up the way the peoples of the region wanted. But it is a sign of what’s possible when the peoples rise up and demand an end to dictatorships, an end to monarchies. It scared the hell out of the Saudis, who worked very hard to crush what was going on in Egypt. I mean, one of the regions the Saudis hate the Iranians is because the Iranians overthrew a monarchy. They don’t like the precedent for that. You’re not supposed to overthrow kings.
The modernizer MBS, the hopes of people like Elliot Abrams, and Friedman, and others, was this would create a kind of new face for autocracy that could suppress, put off, prevent another uprising of the peoples of the region. When he says these countries are dysfunctional, yeah, they’re not dysfunctional because the people weren’t willing to work hard. They’re not dysfunctional because the peoples of these areas didn’t want functional governments. They’re dysfunctional because the Americans primarily, the Western countries helping on the whole, they put in kleptocracies as leaders. They support dictators to just rob their own people blind, that pillage the public treasuries. And the Americans are okay with this as long as they’re our plunderers, our dictators.
And of course peoples hate them. And of course rising resentment is ready to bubble and explode at any time. It’s that the economies are dysfunctional because the U.S. doesn’t allow a normal develop- it doesn’t even allow normal capitalist development, never mind socialism. You can’t even have a normal capitalist development in these countries. Because the elites are so corrupt, are so decrepit, are so decayed, they can’t even do that. And the only reason the Saudi economy can do anything, even though the elites there are so bloody, I don’t know, imbecilic, is because they’re sitting on such mountains of oil wealth.
So it’s so disingenuous for Friedman and his like, which shows- you know, whether it’s Democratic Party or Republican Party, the foreign policy establishments are not very different on this- it’s about hegemony, it’s about domination. It’s got nothing to do with democracy. It’s got nothing to do with the interests of the people of those regions. And it certainly has nothing to do with the national security of Americans or their well being, either.