Realism, Unipolarity, and Morality

This is myopia. A constitutional monarchy with a parliament in Bahrain under US protection would provide leverage against the Saudi royals. When US interests diverge from the Saudis’ – as they assuredly will – the US will have an extra bargaining chip. It will also strengthen the more moderate and modern sectors of Gulf society. Perhaps revive the Kuwaiti parliament, and other moves towards reform and representation. Supporting the monarchies against the intelligentsia strengthens the salafi scribes. For now, the Saudi royal family controls the scribes. In a succession struggle – or any situation where the absolute control of the royals is undermined – they could become kingmakers, or worse, threaten to take over. It is not in the long-term interest of the United States to have the scribes as the only potentially independent center of power in Saudi Arabia.

The ‘oil for protection’ arrangement whereby US protects the Saudi royal family, and the Kingdom maintains excess capacity to moderate the price of oil has been in place since the upheavals of 1979. In exchange for protection, the Saudis agreed to both price oil in dollars and to recycle their petrodollars through the United States. It is in the interest of the Saudis to keep the price of oil high enough to earn sizable profits, but not so high as to encourage investment in alternative energy sources. Periodically, Saudi Arabia has faced considerable pressure from the price hawks within OPEC to push prices higher than its interest dictates. American military protection has strengthened Saudi willingness to resist the hawks. 

The onset of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980 removed 4 million barrels a day (mbd) and drove the price of oil to $42 a barrel, its highest level ever. The Saudis were allied to Iraq and fearing Iranian retaliation against their oil fields, asked for American military protection. The US sent AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia and set up a joint Saudi-American naval task force to guard oil tankers in the Gulf. The Saudis returned the favor by increasing their oil production from 9.7 mbd to 10.3 mbd. Since those days, the Saudis have tried to maintain 2 mbd of excess capacity. This comes in handy for the boss: when the US decided to invade Iraq in 1990 and 2003, the oil monarchies easily replaced the 3-4 mbd that went offline.

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31 thoughts on “Realism, Unipolarity, and Morality

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