We’ve written often of our frustration with the United States pursuing endless war and creating chaos in the Middle East. Meanwhile, recent years have shown Saudi Arabia‘s kingdom advancing with global aggressive war — either violent or economic — detrimentally affecting every continent. It’s vicious effort has even led now to negatively harm the kingdom’s economy, leading to efforts at austerity. To deflect Saudis’ attention from their internal problems, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ramped up the war effort this week, threatening to send U.S.-supplied air power and troops into Syria, further complicating the complex, globally dangerous conflict there.
Yemen aftermath of Saudi bomb.
The Saudis’ violent aggression has occurred on three main fronts: (1) the inhumane, bloody assault on Yemen; (2) both funding and fighting the murderous Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and (3) the Sunni-led government’s beheading of a popular Shia cleric, inciting volatile response in the Middle East and raising international alarm.
Meanwhile, the Saud royalty has created a global economic malaise by manipulating the price of oil, forcing it lower and lower through glutting the market with continued high production to protect market share. This has caused fiscal woes worldwide, especially among nations monetarily dependent on selling oil, ranging from the United States and Canada to Russia and Venezuela.
The Saudis’ effort, actually with schizoid cooperation from Washington, can only catapult the growing trudge toward world war.
Violent Aggression in Yemen
Yemen, a poor Middle East country (income per capital of $2,500) and a Saudi neighbor, has been caught up in a war between the government and rebel Houthis for over a year. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition – with arms, planes and logistic support supplied by Washington – have conducted airstrikes, allegedly on Houthi positions, but also killing civilians, and destroying infrastructure including water supplies and ports. Riyadh believes the Houthis are backed by Iran, and considers Iran an enemy.
A month after the bombing began, the United Nations condemned the attacks and requested they cease so the UN could send aid and humanitarian personnel. Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly chastised the Saudis for bombing a Yemeni hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF).
On Sunday The New York Times reported Human Rights Watch was accusing the Saudis of firing “American-made cluster munitions, banned by international treaty, in civilian areas of Yemen, and said their use may also violate United States law.”
An Associated Press report Tuesday night revealed:
The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ is unfolding in Yemen, exacerbated by increasing restrictions on efforts to respond to the staggering needs of millions of people including the diversion of a U.N. aid ship by Saudi-led coalition forces.
Stephen O’Brien painted a grim picture of the war-ravaged country: more than 35,000 casualties since March 2015 including over 6,000 deaths; at least 7.6 million people ‘severely food insecure;’ more than 3.4 million children now out of school; and nearly 600 health facilities and over 1,170 schools unfit for use because of the conflict.
O’Brien’s briefing to the U.N. Security Council, requested by Russia, was the first focusing on the humanitarian crisis sparked by the country’s civil war.
Funding and Fighting ISIS
Like Riyadh and Washington’s schizoid relationship with the murderous assault on Yemen, Saudi Arabia appears to have its own internal violent contradictions regarding ISIS. On the one hand, the Riyadh government has joined with the U.S. since September 2014 in fighting ISIS. On the other hand, Riyadh has publicly discouraged but allowed Saudis to privately funnel support to the radical Muslims who, like the Saud family, are Wahabbis, i.e. ultra-conservative followers of Sunni Islam. Sunni Islam is the world’s largest religious faith. Wahabbism denounces the Shia faith, the second largest sect of Islam.
President Obama and Saudi king.
The Saudis are foes of Shia governments in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Iran and Iraq are members with Riyadh in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and three of the world’s top 10 oil producers. While OPEC members, they also compete for global market share, thus placing them at both religious and economic odds.
Washington, more in love with Arabian oil and weapons sales than logical foreign policy, has looked away from Riyadh’s bloody contradiction, allowing it to help continue Middle East chaos. Besides, it allows the Saudis to be U.S. allies in opposing Syria’s Shia-led government of Bashar al-Assad. But it also led Washington to basically ignore Riyadh’s helping ISIS in Iraq.
A Religious/Political Beheading
On January 1, Riyadh greatly upped the ante in the Wahabbi vs Shia confrontation by beheading — along with 46 others — Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr for “terrorism”. Riyadh obviously considered him an enemy of the state. But his death set off a regional firestorm. As UK’s The Guardian reported:
The Iranian government and religious leaders across the Middle East have condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric and warned of repercussions that could bring down the country’s royal family.
In a serious escalation of religious and diplomatic tensions in the region, councils and clerics in Iran, Yemen and Lebanon said the killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr would prompt widespread anger.
Oil and Global Economic War
Riyadh’s refusal to curb oil production, at first, was largely seen as an effort to destroy the oil-fracking industry in the United States, and Washington has appeared limp in opposing that. The American fracking industry took on deep debt, and has needed oil prices to maintain at $50-$60 a barrel to survive. But, with the Sauds glutting the market, prices have fallen to currently $20-$30, threatening the shale industry in the U.S.
But the Saudi effort has also greatly harmed major oil producers like Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Mexico, along with others. Indeed, the world’s economy has now been gouged.
This week, in a public relations ploy at seeking a solution, Russia and Saudi Arabia met in Qatar along with Venezuela. They agreed to freeze production at January levels if other oil producers would agree. They may not.
That goes particularly for Iran, who has just seen decades of sanctions lifting, allowing it again to sell oil worldwide, threatening Riyadh’s and others’ share of the take. It also means, while oil prices are killer low for everyone else, Iran can now make money on oil at quantities it couldn’t produce and sell for years, meaning an extra 500,000 barrels added to its 2.9 million barrels a day.
Will this end with Riyadh getting serious about curbing production and raising prices, easing others’ plight? Or will it mean the king getting serious about invading Syria, bringing that regional conflict, already resembling 1914, even closer to world war? While Russia and the U.S. actually seem to be seeking a stalemate in Syria…for the moment, at least…Riyadh and Turkey appear intent on confusing the issue and increasing the bloodshed. And Russia’s prime minister has warned of world war should foreign ground troops invade Syria.
Is there a solution? Perhaps China, who wants to peacefully trade with everybody, is powerful enough to step in and bring reason. It seems to have been trying. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as a trip to Egypt, in late January in efforts at good will and trade.
But, for now, the whole sad Middle East affair looks bleak indeed, and leads us to quote the words of the late John Lennon:
Nobody told me there’d be days like these…Strange days indeed…