“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Which fellow American would you rather be associated with? Which makes you more proud?

The Twilight of Saudi Power

Abdullah leaves his successor in charge of a diminished kingdom. 

Reuters/The Atlantic 
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died last week during what some saw as the height of his kingdom’s resurgence in a volatile region. As turmoil has engulfed governments across the Middle East since the Arab uprisings, Saudi Arabia has seemed to remain a potent pillar of stability. “[F]ar from undermining the Saudi dynasty,” wrote David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times on Sunday, “chaos across the region appears instead to have lifted the monarchy to unrivaled power and influence.”
But as King Salman assumes the throne, is he really taking the reins of an ascendant regional player? Recent evidence, at least in the realm of Saudi foreign policy, suggests the opposite. The final years of Abdullah’s reign were in many ways also years in which the kingdom struggled to retain its historical levels of influence. And with his death, the last of the regionally dominant Saudi monarchs may have passed from the scene. When President Obama lands in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, he will be visiting a declining power.
In its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s, Saudi Arabia, through organizations like the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, was able to use its oil wealth and diplomatic weight to get other governments behind its priorities on issues like opposing Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and containing Iran. Saudi-led negotiations resulted in the Taif Agreement, which ended nearly a decade and a half of civil war in Lebanon. But today, as Middle Eastern countries have split up into smaller political camps due to rising sectarianism and the collapse of governments, Saudi Arabia has scrambled to maintain friendships and shape events. As an anonymous Arab diplomat told the Times: “If everybody around you is going wrong, then your influence around your borders is decreased.”

The kingdom, of course, remains enormously wealthy and influential in international energy markets. Even the recent drop in oil prices—which have plummeted by more than half in the last year—is in large part due to Saudi Arabia’s moves to maintain market share at a time when global oil supplies have grown and demand has dropped. But this makes it all the more conspicuous that the country has been failing for at least a decade, coinciding with Abdullah’s tenure on the throne, to achieve its most important foreign-policy goals.
Chief among these has been limiting Iran’s regional influence. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution brought Shiite theocrats to power in Tehran, the leaders of Sunni-led Saudi Arabia have looked warily across the Gulf and worried about Iran’s role in the region. But it was the U.S.—one of Saudi Arabia’s top partners—that ended up boosting Iran’s influence in the Middle East by invading Iraq in 2003. In ousting Sunni strongman Saddam Hussein, the war brought to power Iraqi Shiite leaders who were more favorable to Iran. This has allowed Tehran to work with actors inside Iraq to strengthen its proxies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and to extend support to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, which has proven a major factor in his ability to remain in power. More recently, Saudi Arabia hascomplained about U.S. efforts to strike a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, which the Obama administration has made a top priority.
The Saudi royals have also largely failed in their goal of stopping the spread of certain Islamist organizations, ranging from the most extreme terrorist groups like ISIS to various Muslim Brotherhood affiliates now participating in the politics of some countries in the region. Saudi officials I’ve spoken with view Islamist groups that support transnational ideas, including ISIS’s vision of a caliphate, as anathema to Saudi interests, which primarily involve preserving the monarchy itself and maintaining regional stability. The history of the kingdom’s relationship with terrorism is sharply mixed—it was late to confronting the terrorist threat generated in no small part by some Saudi nationals. Some of the leading international terrorist networks, including al-Qaeda, have roots in and draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia; Osama bin Laden, for one, was Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. The worldviews of al-Qaeda and ISIS are not that far apart from each other, and their principles are drawn from the same ideological pool as the ultra-conservative Saudi brand of Salafist Islam, commonly referred to as Wahhabism, which the kingdom has enforced at home and promoted overseas.
But Saudi Arabia got a wakeup call when al-Qaeda attacked compounds housing Western workers in Riyadh in 2003. The monarchy has since worked closely with the United States on counterterrorism in the region, including participatingin the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yet the Saudis have undercut their own efforts by backing extremists in Syria, which arguably facilitated the rise of ISIS in the first place. For the most part, Saudi Arabia has been able to prevent major terrorist attacks on its territory over the past decade. But in part due to its continuing legitimization of Islamic fundamentalism, it has been unable to halt the terrorist violence and instability roiling the region.

The kingdom has also tried, in some cases successfully, to influence the internal affairs of other Middle Eastern countries, sending security forces into Bahrain to support the government crackdown on protesters there in 2011, and financially underwriting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But it’s clear Saudi muscle and largesse can only go so far. The monarchy’s strategy to support a peaceful political transition in Yemen seems in tatters now, and despite the kingdom’s strong opposition to Assad, the Syrian president remains in power after nearly four years of civil war. In 2013, Saudi Arabia made a show of turning down a seat on the UN Security Council—a gesture Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan reportedly called “a message for the U.S., not the UN.” The kingdom was motivated in part by the Obama administration’s decision not to strike the Assad regime in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.  
Saudi Arabia has come up empty on Middle East peace as well. In 2002, the kingdom led an effort in the Arab League to present the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal to broker a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world. Saudi Arabia had presumably hoped to present itself as a regional leader in achieving progress where others had failed, but the plan never drew a response—neither Israel nor various international mediators picked up on the offer.
Under Abdullah, in other words, the kingdom’s regional dominance has receded. But the diminished clout he leaves to his successors is not entirely a consequence of the late king’s actions. The Middle East as a whole is fragmenting as more countries and non-state groups like ISIS compete for power. In addition, technological and demographic changes, such as the rise of a new generation in the Middle East’s current youth bulge (15- to 29-year-olds constituted about one-third of the region’s population as of 2008), have limited the ability of traditional institutions to enforce conformity or influence events. These dynamics are not unique to Saudi Arabia, but they are perhaps nowhere more clear than in the kingdom, which has the highest number of active Twitter users in the Arab world, and where a liberal blogger was recently sentenced to a prison term and 1,000 lashes for criticizing the authorities.
It speaks to Saudi Arabia’s unique assets and continuing prestige as the birthplace of Islam that a diverse group of top Arab and Muslim leaders, many of whom are at odds with one another, dropped what they were doing and arrivedin Riyadh on Friday, hours after Abdullah’s death, to take part in funeral prayers at the Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque. Obama, for his part, is making his second trip to the kingdom in less than a year. But in paying their respects to Abdullah, world leaders are perhaps marking not just the passing of one of their own, but also the end of an era in the Middle East.


  1. The era of Saudi Arabia is near over. They will justly fall on their own scimitar. There is no honor in having been associated with them. It is a shameful era in US history.

  2. The number of Americas signing up for Obamacare hit 9.5M. Assume that each has a circle of friends and relatives of 10. If only half of the ten are positively disposed to approving of their friend or relative’s turning of fortune in getting affordable medical coverage, you have 50,000,000 Americans.

    The total price tag for ObamaCare’s insurance programs will be 20 percent less than expected, the government’s budget office said Monday.

    The law’s insurance provisions are now expected to cost $571 billion through 2019 — a drop of about $139 billion from the government’s earliest estimates five years ago, according to new estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

    The Republican Party will hold its first repeal vote on Obamacare next week.

    Michelle Obama’s name in on the law.

    Care to guess the name of one Democratic presidential candidate that would destroy the Party of Stupid on a November Tuesday?

  3. The stupid bastards can’t even count.

  4. For the Republicans it is not about winning.

    They won when Obama dropped the "Single Payer" and instituted RomnyCare as the model for his program ...
    The Republicans did not know how to declare victory.

    They do not know how to win.


  5. Michelle Obama forgoes a headscarf and sparks a backlash in Saudi Arabia

  6. First lady Michelle Obama shakes hands with Saudi king.

    (CNN)President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama made a quick stop in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to pay respects to the late King Abdullah, and to hold meetings with the new leader, King Salman bin Abdulaziz. But one aspect of the encounter stood out to reporters covering the receiving line at the palace: the first lady shook hands with the king.

    Islamic law generally forbids men from touching women to whom they are not related. However, that rule is often times overlooked when official diplomatic delegations visit the kingdom.

    The White House notes that representatives of the United States, including former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all visited the Saudi king, and have all shaken hands with members of the Saudi royal family.

  7. Washington Times -

    Speaker John A. Boehner told his House GOP colleagues Tuesday morning that a judge could be the only thing that can stop President Obama's deportation amnesties, in comments that signaled just how little power Republican leaders believe they have


  8. Rat Doctrine
    Another Success !

    Shell signs $11 billion deal to build petrochemicals plant in Iraq

    (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has signed a deal with Iraq worth $11 billion (7 billion pounds) to build a petrochemicals plant in the southern oil hub of Basra, Industry Minister Nasser al-Esawi said on Wednesday.

    Esawi told a press conference in Baghdad the Nibras complex, which is expected to come on line within five to six years, would make Iraq the largest petrochemical producer in the Middle East.

    "The Nibras complex will be one of the largest (foreign) investments (in Iraq) and the most important in the petrochemical sector in the Middle East," Esawi said.

    A Shell spokesman told Reuters Iraq's cabinet had authorised the project on Jan 13.

    1. Is the new National Guard the key to unifying Iraq?

  9. Bases on the pictures alone of those three Americans I would most like to be associated with Michelle Obama.

    1. Saudi TV blurs first lady's face...

      O keeps bowing..........Drudge


      Michelle did the country proud.

      You go girl !!

    2. And I'm not the only right wing nut case that thinks so -

      RSS Feed

      Good For Her: Michelle Obama Refuses To Wear Head Wrap
      William Teach
      28 Jan, 2015 by William Teach
      Print this article Font size -16+



      Regardless of how you may feel about Michelle Obama, such as with her Nanny State school food controls, this was brave and and an excellent demonstration

      (AP) For first lady Michelle Obama, just a few hours in Saudi Arabia were enough to illustrate the stark limitations under which Saudi women live.

      Joining President Barack Obama for a condolence visit after the death of the King Abdullah, Mrs. Obama stepped off of Air Force One wearing long pants and a long, brightly colored jacket — but no headscarf.

      Under the kingdom’s strict dress code for women, Saudi females are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab. But covering one’s head is not required for foreigners, and some Western women choose to forego the headscarf while in Saudi Arabia.

      As a delegation of dozens of Saudi officials — all men — greeted the Obamas in Riyadh, some shook hands with Mrs. Obama. Others avoided a handshake but acknowledged the first lady with a nod as they passed by.

      Almost none shook hands with Michelle Obama.

      (Politico) First lady Michelle Obama faced backlash from Twitter users in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for not wearing a head covering during her brief visit there with the president.

      Obama wore loose-fitting clothes including a long blue jacket and dark pants while accompanying President Barack Obama during their four hours on the ground in Riyadh to offer condolences on the death of King Abdullah and for the president to meet with new King Salman.

      On Twitter, Saudis used a hashtag that translates to “#Michelle_Obama_Immodest” or “#Michelle_Obama_NotVeiled” to chastise the first lady for being disrespectful to Saudi traditions.

      Some Saudis were upset that she had worn a head covering on a recent trip to Indonesia. However, many foreign females were also not wearing any sort of head covering, as noted in the Washington Post article. Michelle’s arms were fully covered, though that might have been more of a “dress kinda properly for a State funeral visit” thing.

      Mrs. Obama’s office has refused to address the issue, so we do not know why she did not wear a head covering. Regardless, good for her.

  10. The scimitar in Bush’s hand is the same weapon used by the Saudis in their beheadings.

  11. Some are learning to count. Indiana just finalized a deal to expand Medicaid.

    Utah will probably be next, followed by Tennessee.

    1. In the weeks after the election, governors in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming asked lawmakers to approve detailed proposals for expanding the federal-state health plan for low-income adults, in some cases restarting previous efforts to seek approval for expansion.

      600,000 in the queue

  12. (Reuters) - Leftwing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threw down an open challenge to international creditors on Wednesday by halting privatization plans agreed under the country's bailout deal, prompting a third day of heavy losses on financial markets.

    A swift series of announcements signaled the newly installed government would stand by its anti-austerity pledges, setting it on course for a clash with European partners, led by Germany, which has said it will not renegotiate the aid package needed to help Greece pay its debts.

    Tsipras told the first meeting of his cabinet members that they could not afford to disappoint the voters who gave them a mandate in Sunday's election, which his Syriza party won decisively.

    After announcing a halt to the privatization of the port of Piraeus on Tuesday, for which China's Cosco Group [COSCO.UL] and four others had been short-listed, the government indicated it would put the whole program on hold.

    It said it would halt the sale of stakes in the Public Power Corporation of Greece (DEHr.AT), Greece's biggest utility, and refiner Hellenic Petroleum (HEPr.AT) and put other planned asset sales of motorways, airports and the power grid on ice.

    1. It also plans to reinstate public sector employees judged to have been laid off unfairly, including a group of finance ministry cleaners whose case attracted publicity last year, and announced rises in pensions for retired people on low incomes.

      Uncertainty over the new government's relations with the European Union went beyond economic policy. A day before the EU is expected to extend sanctions against Russia for six months, Greece's energy minister said the country was against sanctions. Athens had already dissented over a joint statement from the bloc on Ukraine on Tuesday.

      Tsipras, who met Russia's ambassador to Athens on Monday and the Chinese envoy the next day, told ministers that the government would not seek "a mutually destructive clash" with creditors. But he warned Greece would not back down from demanding a renegotiation of debt.

      "We are coming in to radically change the way that policies and administration are conducted in this country," he said.

      Financial markets have taken fright. Greek bank stocks .FTATBNK plunged more than 26 percent on Wednesday, taking their cumulative losses since the election to over 40 percent.

    2. Well, will you look at that, Reuters must have studied at the same schools I did!.
      They see a decline in equity values, as a loss.

      The editors of Reuters must not have studied at the Madoff School of Business.


  13. Germans in shock as new Greek leader starts with a bang

    In his first act as prime minister on Monday, Alexis Tsipras visited the war memorial in Kaisariani where 200 Greek resistance fighters were slaughtered by the Nazis in 1944.

    The move did not go unnoticed in Berlin. Nor did Tsipras's decision hours later to receive the Russian ambassador before meeting any other foreign official.

    Then came the announcement that radical academic Yanis Varoufakis, who once likened German austerity policies to «fiscal waterboarding», would be taking over as Greek finance minister. A short while later, Tsipras delivered another blow, criticizing an EU statement that warned Moscow of new sanctions.

    The assumption in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's entourage before Sunday's Greek election was that Tsipras, the charismatic leader of the far-left Syriza party, would eek out a narrow victory, struggle to form a coalition, and if he managed to do so, shift quickly from confrontation to compromise mode.

    Instead, after cruising to victory and clinching a fast-track coalition deal with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, has signaled in his first days in office that he has no intention of backing down, unsettling officials in Berlin, some of whom admit to shock at the 40-year-old's fiery start.

    "No doubt about it, we were surprised by the size of the Syriza victory and the speed with which Tsipras clinched a coalition,» said one senior German official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    Another said Tsipras's choice of coalition partner and finance minister were «not good signs», while a third admitted to being «stunned» by the Greek leader's first days in office.

    1. The other major area of concern for Germany is a new Greek government's stance on Russia.

      Tsipras's meeting on Monday with the Russian ambassador, who handed over a personal letter of congratulations from Vladimir Putin, and the new Greek leader's howls of protest at the EU statement on Ukraine, have raised questions about whether the bloc's fragile consensus towards Moscow can hold.

      Even before Tsipras took power, officials in Berlin were worried about keeping countries like Italy on board for Russia sanctions, which must be renewed in mid-2015.

      Now the fear is that Tsipras, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and skeptical eastern European countries like Slovakia and Hungary, could band together against an extension, and a ratcheting up of sanctions in response to a new advance by pro-Russian rebels on the strategic Ukrainian port of Mariupol.

      Prying Tsipras away from his European partners on the Ukraine issue would be a coup for Putin. Some officials fear the Russian president could go so far as to offer Greece the financial support it needs to meet its debt obligations as a carrot.

    2. Only days before the vote, Tsipras declared in a campaign speech in Athens:
      We will never go as beggars on our knees to Merkel, we will go standing tall as Greeks do."

      300 - The First Battle Scene - "Earthquake. No Captain, Battle Formations... "

  14. "...

    Air power can damage. It can blunt advances. But it cannot root out an enemy that buries itself among the population and in hard-to-find locations. And it is a figment of political imagination to believe that “advisers,” sent to teach locals how to fight, can somehow avoid a degree of combat (and risk) when the locals do fight. Antiseptic war is for bathtub admirals, armchair generals, ministerial wordsmiths and sterile parliamentary exchanges.

    The Islamic State has grown up as a fiercely radical movement within Sunni Muslim theology and politics. It is at war as much with secular Sunnis and even militant Sunni elements, such as al-Qaeda, as it is with the West. It thrives on political vacuums created by the collapse of states, which is among the reasons why Islamic State groups have shown up in the civil war now being fought in Libya and in pockets of Pashtun southern Afghanistan.

    The West, often acting on the illusion that others are like it or can become such, has destroyed or helped to destroy undemocratic regimes, only to discover that brutal order gets replaced with vicious disorder.

    Like Iraq and Syria before it, Libya is descending into internecine chaos, with rival forces controlling Benghazi and Tripoli and the central government all but disappeared. IS elements have entered the country, smelling opportunities they might exploit.

    The West (with a Canadian general directing the bombing campaign and Canadian planes dropping bombs) helped to destroy Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, without any sense of what would replace it.

    Rather predictably, a country built on a superstructure of tribal rivalries now takes the shape of those rivalries. Libya’s factions are well-equipped militarily and their loyalties lie less with the state than their own interests. Without any experience of compromise, or any institutions that could lead to compromise, the fault lines widen so that it becomes another failed state whose fragility invites predators, opportunists and ideologues.

    So if, as has been argued, the aim in the fight against the Islamic State is to first degrade it, then defeat it, adversaries will find that like al-Qaeda, it will fragment and implant itself in hospitable territories, since ideology and doctrine know no political boundaries.

    Moreover, even if the more limited objective is to somehow defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, the movement is implanted deeply in neighbouring Syria, where to this point the Harper government has pledged not to go. But in this long fight, it makes little sense to think only of Iraq. As with Afghanistan’s Taliban, who move with impunity to Pakistan, Iraq’s Islamic State could melt into the deserts of Syria to regroup, rearm and refresh.

    All of which is to say that even another Canadian tour of duty will not be the end of the affair. This truth, rooted in the reality of the mission, is apparently too dangerous to be admitted."

    1. The only people that can 'root out ISIS are the Iraqi.

      The US was there for a decade and couldn't 'root it out'.
      Syria always provided a 'sanctuary' to the Baathists, Ash.

      As Cambodia provided R&R opportunities to the Viet Cong and the NVA., so too does Syria to the Daesh.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. The only people that can 'root' ISIS out of Iraq are the Iraqi.

      Revised and extended

  15. Ah HA !

    Michael Savage agrees with me.

    "For the first time I am proud of Michelle Obama" he says.

  16. Hey, have you seen the latest Grubber Raps For ObamaCare For Dummies video?

    Get off your ass. Look it up, Dummies.

    What a talent !