The Muhammad bin Salman Gambit: Jockeying for Control and Hegemony Within and Without the Kingdom

While we wait for the Friday evening breaking news, I thought I’d take a minute and focus a bit on what is going on in Saudi Arabia in regard to both domestic and regional activities. Let’s take things one at a time.

1) The Saudi anti-corruption campaign: Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has used the slogan anti-corruption to try to further solidify his position as Crown Prince. From his perspective he’s 32 and the Crown Prince. His father is 80 and in poor health. If he can solidify his position, then he can essentially rule Saudi for five or six decades. I think that this is what a good part of what we saw last week is about. Another portion is that it is a financial shakedown. Muhammad bin Salman is using the anti-corruption label to fine those he’s detained and/or to just strip them of vast sums of wealth. He needs capital to do what he wants, yet because of the price of oil for the past decade and the emergence of alternative energy options becoming competitive as the tech gets better, Saudi’s treasury is in bad shape. Funding a proxy war for regional hegemony against Iran hasn’t helped budgetary matters either.

What I think MBS would really like to do is change the governance dynamic within the Kingdom and these actions are all geared towards this goal. What he wants is not the familial/kinship/tribal style of rule of his predecessors where the Saudi king runs the kingdom like it is one big tribe with a bunch of smaller affiliated tribes in the mix. Rather MBS wants to turn Saudi into a proper, pre 20th century style absolute monarchy. I think we’ll have a better idea if he’s successful within the next 30 to 60 days. His coup proofing and wealth shakedown under cover of anti corruption is either going to be acquiesced to or there will be push back. It would not surprise me if he succeeds. It would also not surprise me if he is dead within two months. Or there is at least a credible attempt on his life. My long term impression of Saudi royal family politics is that it is quite opaque to any but the best informed outside observers who are given at least partial access to the Kingdom and the royal family. I think Saudi royal family internal politics can best be described as being like a bucket of crabs where each crab is trying to escape the bucket by crawling over the other crabs and by grabbing the crabs above them and pulling them down.

2) The Saudi campaign in Yemen: This is absolutely strategically stupid! The Houthis are Zaydis (Fivers), not Ithna Ashari (Twelvers) Shi’a. They had no long standing or historic alliance with Iran until the Saudis decided that there was an Iranian conspiracy against them in Yemen that leveraged the Houthis. So who did the Houthis turn to for supplies when they had no other options? The Iranians. The Saudis made the mess that is Yemen worse. And specifically Muhammad bin Salman did. This is his baby. What we’re watching with the Saudi actions in Yemen are that MBS is a terrible strategist, he’s also a terrible tactician, and what many have long observed is true: the Saudi military is good for parades and presentations and not very good if you need it to fight. They can’t and don’t do joint operations despite long term training programs to teach them to do so.

The only competent military service in Saudi is the National Guard, which is both a praetorian guard like force to protect the royal family (which MBS will now try to remake into protecting MBS since he’s arrested his cousin who ran the Guard) and the descendants of ibn Saud’s desert warriors, the Ikhwan, who were the first and some of the most fanatical converts to ibn Wahhab’s teachings of radical and extreme tawheed.* The Saudi campaign in Yemen has also created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The conditions in Yemen are horrible and abysmal. It is going to cost billions if not trillions to fix the mess Saudi created and by any measure should require prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3) This leads us to the Saudi led blockade of Qatar. There are some long term issues in regard to who the Amir of Qatar provides financial support to, but what MBS did, in conjunction with his friend and mentor Muhammad bin Zayed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, was also strategically stupid. The US has over 10,000 personnel at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Those folks can’t just be relocated. Additionally, by putting the blockade in place it created the opportunity for Iran to expand its influence by offering to relieve Qatari food and other shortages created by the blockade, which it did. So here too Muhammad bin Salman’s strategic ineptitude is visible. Instead of checking Iranian influence, he created the conditions to expand it. And the Iranians took the opportunity.

4) Lebanon: This is a mess. Hariri’s party and his family are treating this as a Saudi driven plot. They’ve actually accused the Saudis of kidnapping Harriri, holding him against his will, and forcing him to do this. Regardless it only empowers Hezbullah in regard to Lebanon’s government. And Hezbullah, which is not exactly an ally of Hariri’s, is also now claiming he has been taken hostage by the Saudis. All Hariri’s resignation and flight to Saudi Arabia has done is create another new opportunity for Iran to expand its influence in Lebanon. Here too Muhammad bin Salman’s failure as a strategist is clearly evident. His actions have achieved the opposite effect from that he desired.

5) All of this is part of the larger, regional Saudi-Iranian proxy war for regional hegemony. Saudi seeks to be the hegemon and the protector of Sunni Islam. Iran seeks a Shia sphere of influence and near abroad. The difference is that the Iranians have, perhaps, the best strategist in the region – MG Suleimani, while the Saudis are being run by a 32 year old with delusions of grandeur.

As it always does with Saudi, some of this comes back to ibn Wahhab’s radical and extreme version of tawheed (the radical unity of the Deity). As Ahmad Moussalli wrote in Wahhabism, Salafism, and Islamism: Who is the Enemy:

the Wahhabi muwaheedun have been arguing for over 200 years that they are the true defenders of Sunni Islam, while at the same time being in direct and active opposition to 90% of Sunni Islam.

This also includes ibn Wahhab’s conceptualization of Sunni/Shi’a relations as good versus evil, which leads the Saudis to take an almost religiocidal approach to dealing with the Shi’a as ibn Wahhab’s teachings state the Shi’a must be killed wherever they can be found. This is contributing to the Saudi created mess in Yemen. 

Muhammad bin Salman has indicated that he wants to reform the version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Specifically he wants to modernize and moderate it. That’s great. But a modernized and moderated radically extreme theology is still just a more pleasantly packaged radically extreme theology. The danger of ibn Wahhab’s radical concept of tawheed is that it is not jurisprudence.** It has no madhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence). Despite attempts to claim it is an extension of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, it isn’t just a more severe Hanbalism. It is not ijtihad (Islamic jurisprudence and legal reasoning). Rather it is theology and doctrine. And theology and doctrine can spread and infect any of the four Sunni madhads. This is what has made it so dangerous because as radical and extreme as ibn Wahhab’s teachings were, they can be further refined. Which is what bin Laden and Zawahiri did for al Qaeda and what Zarqawi and Badghdadi have done with ISIS. And why first AQ’s and now ISIS’s even more extreme versions of ibn Wahhab’s tawheed have been able to spread. They aren’t madhab dependent, so they can travel throughout the Sunni Muslim world influencing theology and doctrine.

6) Finally, and one that is not Saudi specific, the US led coalition has reduced the physical caliphate, but all the conditions and drivers that made the Levant and the Middle East and the Maghreb and parts of Africa and Central Asia a powder keg haven’t been addressed, let alone resolved. There is still a long term regional drought, which was a major driver of both the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi sectarian violence. The proxy war between Saudi and Iran with Turkey trying to edge itself in is still ongoing.  Sectarian issues haven’t been resolved. The Kurds still don’t have independence and now the Barzani faction is angry and seeking support from Russia. Russia is not only determined to keep its warm water port in Latakia, but is trying to put a land route in through the Caucasus to another warm water port in Iran. ISIS may not have much physical territory left, but they’ve got plenty of cyber presence. The Netanyahu government and no one in his coalition has any real desire to resolve the dispute with the Palestinians, let alone allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. The US and NATO led train, advise, and assist mission in Afghanistan has just entered its sixteenth year, or rather we’ve started year one for the sixteenth time again in Afghanistan. As ISIS loses its physical territory, we’ve done nothing to resolve the underlying conditions and drivers that allowed for them to come in to being and to take and hold so much territory to begin with. And we’ve certainly not resolved the problems that make them attractive in parts of the Maghreb, east and west Africa, and southeast Asia.

* Please see chapters 3 and 4.

** Please see chapters 2, 5, and 6.

108 replies
  1. 1
    Matt McIrvin says:

    Isn’t today’s big thing the story about Flynn plotting with the Turkish government to kidnap that dude in the Poconos?

  2. 2

    Thanks Adam, for the detailed post. The formatting seems to be messed up, making 1 to 5 difficult to read.

  3. 3
    NotMax says:

    As regards point 1, have seen scattered reports that at least some of those arrested had previously refused entreaties from Salman to fund KSA’s foreign escapades.

  4. 4
    Gravenstone says:

    Looks like a bit of a formatting mess on the post into FYWP, Adam. A couple different fonts and font sizes are showing, and all your para breaks through point 5 appear to be missing.

  5. 5
    Gravenstone says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Thought that was sort of “known” shortly after Flynn had to bail on his position in the admin?

  6. 6
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @schrodingers_cat: @Gravenstone: I don’t know why that is. I’ve got most of it fixed. Appears to be one of WP’s occasional hiccups. Try it now.

  7. 7
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

  8. 8
    Baud says:

    Rather MBS wants to turn Saudi into a proper, pre 20th century style absolute monarchy.

    This could be in our strategic interest of MBS were competent, but it sounds like he’s not.

    Thanks, Adam. But what’s with the frequent font changes on the mobile site?

  9. 9
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Matt McIrvin: @Gravenstone: It was known and is one of them for today. What is different in this reporting is that it has far greater detail regarding what was being plotted, how much was being offered, that Flynn Jr was in on it, things like that.

  10. 10
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Baud: I don’t know. Appears to be a WP hiccup. Everything looks fine in the dashboard. I’ve done some reformatting and think I’ve fixed almost all of it.

  11. 11
    Anonymous at Work says:

    @Baud: I think the change is proper but the analogy is to move Saudi Arabia from a “palace economy” to “Louis XIV economy”. Rather than everything flow through the “palace”, and kinsmen take a cut based on how closely related to the monarch, it’ll be charters, grants, privileges, and all manner of royal accommodation.
    Divided on if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing.

  12. 12
    lollipopguild says:

    Adam: Thanks for this post, it helped me try and understand what is going on. What a mess.

  13. 13
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @lollipopguild: I could, of course, be wrong.

  14. 14

    Thanks Adam, I was hoping to read you on this topic soon!

  15. 15
    sharl says:

    FYI, EFG has returned! He’s in the previous post’s comments (#106).

    I recommended he drop in up here to say ‘howdy’, but in case he’s not yet up to a lot of posting, thought I’d go ahead and mention it.

  16. 16

    @Adam L Silverman: did you type it in something else (Word) and then paste it in? It can raise holy hell with WordPress.

  17. 17
    Mike in NC says:

    We can all sleep better knowing that Jared has everything under control.

  18. 18
    Cermet says:

    Now, do this for most the middle east, far east and north Africa and one starts to see some of what is really going on in the world; note a drought started much of this and it isn’t abating – uhmm, that corporate global warming issue caused by the 0.0001% greed to cash in on the remaining carbon still under ground. Gated community and wealth woun’t protect them from whats coming.

  19. 19
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Yes, which is why I scrubbed the formatting first, then reformatted in the dashboard editor.

  20. 20
    NotMax says:

    Do you think Salman will take Aramco public? There certainly have been mutterings about that.

  21. 21
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mike in NC: I removed the Jared material because I couldn’t find a way to write it that wasn’t over the line from snarky to kicking a defenseless animal.

  22. 22
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cermet: I can only write so much at one time…

  23. 23
    bystander says:

    What we’re watching with the Saudi actions in Yemen are that MBS is a terrible strategist, he’s also a terrible tactician…

    This would explain twitler’s expression of admiration of MBS.

  24. 24

    @Adam L Silverman: I would hardly call J-Kush (or as I saw somebody here call him yesterday Ralph Lauren of Arabia) defenseless, his wife’s daddy is president and all.

    @Adam L Silverman: you missed a spot.

  25. 25
    JMG says:

    This is off topic (thanks for the information as always, Adam) but I have to note TCM’s move into political commentary/shade continues. Right now it’s showing Lolita.

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    @Major Major Major Major

    Word?

    (Eyes and mouth wide open in expression of abject horror.)

    One immutable dictum is that Word is an eternal nest of clusterf*cks.

  27. 27
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: He’s been talking about it, but he can’t do an IPO anywhere legit like NY or London or anywhere else in the EU because of the transparency and disclosure requirements. That basically leaves him with the itty bitty Saudi exchange or the PRC. Neither of those will get him what he needs.

  28. 28
    debbie says:

    @sharl:

    Thanks! This is wonderful news!

  29. 29

    @NotMax: that’s why I guessed it was Word.

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I didn’t miss a spot. I’ve gone over the formatting five times. That last bit just will not reformat no matter what I do.

  31. 31
    debbie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    If the animal’s Jared, I’m more than happy to kick him senseless for you if you’re not up to it.

  32. 32
    Nicole says:

    Rather MBS wants to turn Saudi into a proper, pre 20th century style absolute monarchy.

    That worked out really well for Charles I, Louis XVI and Nicholas II.

  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: I don’t use word unless I’m having to do something for work. Usually I use pages.

  34. 34
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    M^4 is a code monkey, he could probably fix that for you if you gave him the keys. Of course, therein lies the rub …

  35. 35
    PeakVT says:

    Why oh why does this country stay involved in the Middle East? Why can’t we just stick to f**king up countries in our own hemisphere?

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’m aware. I’ve borrowed his expertise in the past. Also, I don’t make the rule around here. I just act under the principle of “unless otherwise directed”.

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @PeakVT: We have to fuck things up over there so we don’t have to fuck things up over here. Or something. I think Rumsfeld said it. Or something.

  38. 38
    Repatriated says:

    @PeakVT: Oil.

  39. 39
    Calouste says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Problem with Aramco’s IPO in a nutshell is that the Saudi royal family has been using it as their piggy bank for more than 50 years, and they haven’t kept many receipts.

  40. 40
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Calouste: Yep. Any disclosure would be toxic for them.

  41. 41
    NotMax says:

    2,q href=”https://www.balloon-juice.com/2017/11/10/the-muhammad-bin-salman-gambit-jockeying-for-control-and-hegemony-within-and-without-the-kingdom/#comment-6629301″>PeakVT

    Top 7 reasons:

    1) Oil
    2) Maintaining the dollar as the international trade currency of choice
    3) Oil
    4) Russia
    5) Oil
    6) China
    7) Oil

  42. 42
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @NotMax:

    Showing my age and biases here, so haters can hate all they want, but I still miss WordPerfect.

  43. 43
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: every lawyer agrees with you

    Reveal codes!

  44. 44
    Tim C. says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: It went downhill after 5.1

    Also… remember XMS vs EMS?

  45. 45
    NotMax says:

    @SiubhanDuinne

    Yes, yes, yes. Corel was light years better.

    For informal typing rather than professional composing, any word processor is overkill, IMHO, as opposed to a simple and compact text editor.

  46. 46
    Mary G says:

    Somebody wrote that when Jared made his last unpublicized trip to KSA a few weeks ago, he and MBS (who were called the “two princes”) stayed up until like 4 a.m. talking and planning their world domination. They are two peas in a pod, born on third thinking they hit a triple.

    The coalition, which we are helping even to the extent of fueling the bombers, has tightened the blockade of Yemen where 7 million people are at risk of starving and the cholera epidemic got up to 600,000+ cases.

    At this point, I am ready for the US to throw up its hands, pull all our troops out of the entire Middle East and let Iran and the Saudis duke it out.

  47. 47
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I’m just being mean to M^4. 😈

  48. 48
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: Okay. Still a bit slow today. Got in to see the doc. It is, indeed, a sinus infection. Started the good drugs this afternoon. As usual I get two of these a year and this is the second one.

  49. 49
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: That was what was reported. Kushner, however, may be an even worse strategist and tactician than MBS. MBS, at least, was trained to a certain extent to run the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Kushner had to be bought into Harvard because he’s not to bright.

  50. 50
    PeakVT says:

    @Repatriated: That’s not as relevant as it used to be, given the rise of domestic fracking. Besides, it’s not like our actions have kept the region stable and conflict-free.

  51. 51
    Amaranthine RBG says:

    Yeah, there are tens, maybe hundreds, of billions of dollars in play in Saudi now.

    It makes the millions of dollars gained from laundering Russian money through real estate look like very small potatoes.

  52. 52
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    But if Jared rubs the orb real hard and clicks his heels together three times…

    ;)

    “By the way, Sally, my bro, wanna buy a building in Manhattan? And where can I get a decent bagel here?”

  53. 53

    @Mnemosyne: and all for naught, I didn’t even notice.

    And don’t tell Dad but I already have some of the keys… 😈

  54. 54
    ColoradoGuy says:

    @Adam L Silverman: One trick I found very useful for sinus infections is heating up a pan of water with several spoonfuls of turmeric or curry powder mixed in. Get it to a near-boil, put a towel over your head, and breathe in the vapors for several minutes. Do this two or three times a day. I found it as effective as heavy-duty antibiotics like Cipro (but go ahead and take the antibiotics if you have them).

    The vapors kill the bacteria on contact, and soothe the inflamed tissues. They also open up the sinuses surprisingly quickly, which lets the antibiotic get to work faster. You will smell like an Indian restaurant, but that’s a lot better than the sinus infection.

  55. 55
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: I’m not touching this comment with a ten foot orb!

  56. 56
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @ColoradoGuy: The big bowl of pho I had with extra sriracha, chili garlic paste, and hoisin sauce last night pretty much opened everything right up.

  57. 57
    Ladyraxterinok says:

    Thanks for this info. Very helpful as always.

  58. 58

    @Adam L Silverman: wow, I started to get something yesterday and did the exact same thing. Of course, I’m in San Francisco, so the pho was real 😏

  59. 59
    PeakVT says:

    US foreign policy over the past 70-ish years has been predicated in the idea that there an expansion-minded state-based superpower somewhere on the globe that must be constantly thwarted by the sole other superpower. For a long while, that was true (if overly simplistic). Today, it isn’t. But our involvement around the world still looks like policy is being driven by the old premise, even if there are lots of different rationales – some good, many not – provided for each action or set of actions. That’s kinda what drives me nuts about FP. I’d say more but typing on a phone is tedious for me.

  60. 60
    sharl says:

    Lebanon: This is a mess. Hariri’s party and his family are treating this as a Saudi driven plot…

    I listened to some news about this on NPR this morning, and some think tank dude fronting for KSA was making a rather unconvincing case for the Kingdom’s cover story. The Q&A went roughly something like this:

    Q: Why didn’t Hariri wait until he returned to Lebanon to announce his resignation?
    A: It was Hariri’s choice to do it this way.
    Q: But why couldn’t we hear that directly from Hariri? Is he under arrest by the Saudis?
    A: No, he’s not under arrest. Again, it was his choice to announce his resignation [indirectly/through the KSA government] this way. And Hariri has been meeting with diplomats, so he is conducting business in public.
    Q: How can you call such meetings public when they are not aired in the media?
    A: This was Hariri’s choice to not make these meetings available to the media!

    etc., etc… That think tank dude – I didn’t catch his name, nor am I motivated to track it down – had nothing on Nathan Thurm.

    One thing I learned (via a podcast featuring a guy specializing in study of this region*), is that Hariri has dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship, because his (assassinated) father was Saudi. Apparently he inherited many millions (or is it billions? I forget.) worth of assets from his late father’s business interests. That might be something the Saudis are holding over his head, beyond whatever physical constraints they have imposed on him. Weird, weird, weird…

    *(I’m guessing more details on Hariri are in Adam’s links, but I haven’t clicked on them yet.)

  61. 61
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I got mine from one of the local Vietnamese restaurants owned and run by local Vietnamese Americans.

  62. 62
    NotMax says:

    @Major Major Major Major

    Everybody sing.

    If you’re stuffy in San Francisco
    Be sure to put some pho fumes up your nose

  63. 63
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: If you remember his name, let me know. I’m curious who it was.

  64. 64
    Elie says:

    I canremember so many on the left railing against the superpower US /- world policeman, participant in world markets etc. Well, under Trump we will be shrunk to the role so many lefties wanted. We’ll be Switzerland without social liberalism or money or trade. But we will be fine watching the world do these roles with China

  65. 65
    Jay C says:

    …and what many have long observed is true: the Saudi military is good for parades and presentations and not very good if you need it to fight. They can’t and don’t do joint operations despite long term training programs to teach them to do so.

    So then all that shiny made-in-USA high-tech weaponry we’ve *gotten* the Saudis to buy from us over the decades is mainly for show? Or as a payoff to our MIC?? Or is it just that it’s useful for campaigns against (presumably) backward, low-tech “militaries” like the Houthi rebels in Yemen – for whom, apparently, a black-market Scud missile is the pinnacle of their arsenal?*

    *which, seemingly, is about as efficient a means of attacking Riyadh as sending a truck bomb overland……
    (except the truck would probably be harder to intercept)

  66. 66
    Shana says:

    @Mike in NC: Not tonight he doesn’t, shabbos.

  67. 67
    catclub says:

    So MBS wants to be the Shah, but is far less competent. Wonderful.

    I want the US to not back him yesterday.

  68. 68
    gene108 says:

    I remember when “Peace in the Middle East” just meant solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…sigh…the good old days…

  69. 69
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jay C: All of the above Katie.

  70. 70
    Ella in New Mexico says:

    @Adam L Silverman
    Thanks for this really thorough and fascinating analysis. Taking me awhile to digest, but well worth it so far.

  71. 71
    Ian says:

    So, MBS thinks he is Paul-Muad’dib…but he’s probably more Glossu Rabban. This will end well…

  72. 72
    Mary G says:

    Adam, if you’re still around, do you know anything about the missile that the Saudis said the Houthis fired on Riyadh the other day? The timing seemed a bit suspicious to me.

  73. 73
    gene108 says:

    @Elie:

    We’ll be Switzerland without social liberalism or money or trade. But we will be fine watching the world do these roles with China

    The US still has the largest economy of any nation on the planet. The only “nation” with a larger economy is the 27 nation EU, and the difference isn’t much.

    The size of the US economy means we will still command a great deal of power on the global stage.

    What we are seeing, prior to Trump, is not the US diminishing, but developing nations riding up to fill the void left by the end of the Cold War.

    With Trump and his erratic behavior, and the huge swing from Obama, American credibility is shot to hell. A Democratic President will undo what a Republican President did and vise-versa.

  74. 74
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: The Houthis routinely fire across the border. I think this may have just been the one that’s gotten the deepest into Saudi. The Saudis are touting that they got it from Iran. It is more likely it is either left over stuff the Soviets supplied to the Yemenis decades ago or something they Houthis built now that they’ve got their own munitions works up and running. It is important to remember that roughly 3/4 of the Yemeni Army defected to the Houthis and brought their stuff with them.

  75. 75
    Origuy says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Using Word to generate HTML is like using a three-sided Tibetan thurba to slice onions. There will inevitably be tears.

  76. 76
    Elie says:

    @gene108:
    No disagreement but you know some of us railed at being “the sole superpower”. That it was a detriment and we would be much better off not having our noses in so much and in our efforts to intrude rule of law and democracy so broadly. We should just mind our own business.
    We can’t do that and now we see why in the wrong hands we will be diminished.

  77. 77
    Mary G says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Thanks Adam. I learn a lot from you and your linkage.

  78. 78
    Origuy says:

    @Origuy: Sorry, that should be phurba.

  79. 79
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: You’re welcome.

  80. 80
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Origuy: You’re phurgiven.

  81. 81
    Calouste says:

    @gene108: Yep, it’s not as much the shitgibbon’s erratic behavior, as the erratic behavior of America as a country. Why make concessions to the USA when the next President can just renege on the agreement, like what happened to the Iran deal?

    The rest of the world thought that the USA had a stable system. Short of a constitutional overhaul, it’s going to take decades to earn that trust again.

  82. 82
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: If you remember his name, let me know.

    The think tank guy was Ali Shihabi (his twitter account), a Saudi national who is founder and Executive Director of The Arabia Foundation.

    As a real live, genuine Saudi, no one can call him one of the usual U.S. hired guns serving as a think tank front wo/man and apologist, so he at least has authenticity going for him. But after re-listening to his segment, I stand by the comparison to Nathan Thurm. He was on this morning’s BBC World Service feed my local NPR affiliate broadcasts every weekday morning; you can listen to him here (his segment starts just beyond the 9m5s time stamp).

  83. 83
    Pupjoint says:

    Thanks Adam for another great post. Good information. Your posts are one reason I visit this site!
    Oh, I love pho (and Banh Mi)

  84. 84
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: Never heard of him. Which isn’t surprising, I ignore a lot of the think tank stuff.

  85. 85
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Pupjoint: Thank you. You’re welcome. And I’ll update the dietary preferences in your file.

  86. 86
    Marcopolo says:

    Welp, I guess understanding the underpinnings of the coming apocalypse is better than just burying my head in the sand but what a frigging depressing thing to read just as the weekend begins. Someone bring in a happy pet thread stat!

  87. 87
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Ignoring think tank stuff is usually the best way to go. I think BBC’s choice here was sound, given that they clearly wanted someone who was available who could best represent the official KSA position (I assume he’s connected).

    But I listen to a lot of BBC at night as I drift off to sleep, and so often they seem to have a real penchant for finding the dregs among U.S. pundits for commentary on both our foreign and domestic policies; Frank Gaffney comes to mind, though there have been quite a few others whose names escape me. I guess the Beeb’s reputation isn’t the draw it used to be thirty years ago, and since the almighty news cycle is always hungry, they must feel the need to grab whomever they can (and/or are ignorant of which pundits are most reputable, an equally plausible explanation given the BBC’s layoffs of older staff in recent years). Whatever.

  88. 88
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Marcopolo: I’ve got an anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald post scheduled for later this evening. Will that do?

  89. 89
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: My problem is that I never quite seem to be able to have anyone explain to me just how the people at the think tanks get hired to be at the think tanks. And this includes someone I know who is fairly senior at one, other than him insisting that his institution’s process is legit. And I’ve also got concerns over the funding of a lot of them.

  90. 90
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Ayup! Think tank marketing is (I assume) a special case of the op-ed business dynamics at a newspaper: the written “product” is designed to please someone willing to pay for writing they can then use to justify something near and dear to their hearts (or wallets).

  91. 91
    Marcopolo says:

    @Adam L Silverman:I guess if you’re into Great Lakes shipwrecks that might be considered a happy post. I was in the UP for a week this summer & visited an old lighthouse/museum in Eagle Harbor. Lots of exhibits about ships foundering off the Keweenaw Pennisula including a special section on the City of Bangor (1926) which ran aground just before winter set in. It was full of cars which they went out to salvage by winching them down to the lake ice (once it froze thick enough) and then drove to the shore. If I recall, they sat around for a few months until they could plow a route south to Houghton to get them on a train. Shipping on the Great Lakes—fun fun fun.

  92. 92
    Chris says:

    @gene108:

    With Trump and his erratic behavior, and the huge swing from Obama, American credibility is shot to hell. A Democratic President will undo what a Republican President did and vise-versa.

    There was a foreigner on LGM that made the point that one of the biggest problems with Trump isn’t so much the man himself, as the fact that he comes so soon on the heels of George W. Bush. Dubya already shot American credibility to hell and back; with Obama’s election, people thought America might be back on track; but now with Trump elected, it’s making it look like Dubya wasn’t a fluke and the U.S. has become an unreliable interlocutor in a way that transcends any individual president.

  93. 93
    TenguPhule says:

    Muhammad bin Salman’s failure as a strategist is clearly evident.

    At this point, have you considered he might be an Iranian double agent?

  94. 94
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: The too cute by half treatment of the Georgians to get them into the coalition of the willing was noted and won’t soon be forgotten.

  95. 95
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Adam L Silverman: yeah, we don’t like be messed with. Hunker down!

  96. 96
    frosty says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Hear hear, totally agree! WordPerfect 5.2 was the peak of word processing. Everything after (fonts, ptui!) has morphed it into Desktop Publishing, wherein if your doc doesn’t look gorgeous, it gets downgraded. I consider Word a productivity killer.

    ETA, I read the comments, I may be thinking of 5.1. Was there a 5.2?

  97. 97
    LaNonna says:

    Thanks Adam for this post, really explains the issues for me.

  98. 98
    TenguPhule says:

    @gene108: Dude, most of our wealth comes from the free flow of trade.

    We are fucked once our Navy no longer dominates the waves.

    Think I’m wrong? Look at No Longer Great Britain.

    Russia and China combined can’t secure the oceans like we have. Its gonna be a new age of piracy.

  99. 99
    Tehanu says:

    @NotMax:

    One immutable dictum is that Word is an eternal nest of clusterf*cks.

    At my office I’m the unofficial expert on Word — not because I’m really an expert, because I’m not, but because hardly anybody really knows anything about how it works. We have PhD’s who don’t know that you can click the paragraph icon to see your tabs and paragraph marks. But the more I learn about it, the more it convinces me that Microsoft doesn’t have the least idea how to fix anything in it either. That’s actually a good thing, in a way, because every time they “fix” something, they make it harder to use in any way that doesn’t suit the dumb ideas of their ignorant 20-something coders — but if you mess around with it a bit, you find the same old dialog boxes behind the scenes and you can override their trendoid defaults to hideous color schemes, tables that “automatically” expand past the margins you want, and enormous icons that take up a third of your screen space because the coders are semi-illiterates who can’t read menus and think nobody else can read either.

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    I still miss WordPerfect

    Me too!

  100. 100
    mainmata says:

    I worked in Egypt and Lebanon, studied Arabic and the history of Islam. Excellent analysis, Adam. I would just note that “Salafism” is much older than Ibn Wahhab who, for those not familiar lived in the 18th century. I’m certain you know that; just contributing to the conversation. Sunni Islam is a bit like Protestant Christians: many sects, many schools, some radically different from each other. Shi’a Islam is much more like the Catholic Church: hierarchical, with a single “pope” (the Ayatollah) and, with the exception of the fivers (Zaidis) most Shi’a are twelvers mostly having one theology. Of course, the big difference is that the Shi’a are far smaller than the Catholics; most Muslims are Sunni. But to your point, MBS really is a huge gambler and terrible strategist. I’m guessing MBS is betting that stupid Trump is going to bail him out in his stupid mistakes because that’s what we do in the Middle East.

  101. 101
    frosty says:

    @Tehanu:

    We have PhD’s who don’t know that you can click the paragraph icon to see your tabs and paragraph marks.

    I don’t know how anyone can use a word processor without looking at those, but it seems to be the case among a lot of my co-workers.

  102. 102
    mainmata says:

    @Calouste: 28 states have signed up for a Constitutional Convention, all of them Republican. If they ever get enough to actually get to a convention, expect the US to turn into Zimbabwe. Seriously.

  103. 103
    mainmata says:

    @sharl: Rafik Hariri was Lebanese born and bred not Saudi. He worked In KSA in construction (of course) and gained Saudi citizenship but he was a loyal Lebanese. Which is not to say he didn’t have good relations with KSA as a Sunni.

  104. 104
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @mainmata: The Saudis claim that their version of Islam, rooted in ibn Wahhab’s radical and extreme understanding of tawheed is both the true Islam and should be referred to as the true salafism. I am very familiar with the actual history of the Islamic reform and revivalism movement. Especially its modern history beginning in Egypt towards the end of the 19th Century.

  105. 105
    sharl says:

    @mainmata: Thanks for the correction, and further information. I didn’t dig very deeply there (obviously).

  106. 106
    Jerry says:

    I really miss John Burgess’s (may he rest in peace) XRoadsArabia blog. His blog was fantastic in putting contemporary Saudi events into easily understood contexts. When he got too sick to keep up his blog, we in the West lost a really good portal into what was happening there.

  107. 107
    Citizen Alan says:

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    I still use Wordperfect. I thought it far superior to Word for the drafting of legal documents. Plus the stubborn refusal of Word to include anything comprable to the reveal codes button is infuriating when I have to edit other people’s Word Documents.

  108. 108
    sm*t cl*de says:

    @Jay C:

    So then all that shiny made-in-USA high-tech weaponry we’ve *gotten* the Saudis to buy from us over the decades is mainly for show? Or as a payoff to our MIC?? Or is it just that it’s useful for campaigns against (presumably) backward, low-tech “militaries” like the Houthi rebels in Yemen – for whom, apparently, a black-market Scud missile is the pinnacle of their arsenal?*

    It was certainly my impression that a lot of the KSA military budget is very expensive Tom Cruise cos-play for entitled scions of the royal house, allowing them to fly fast planes and pretend to be Top Gun and drop bombs on civilians from a safe height without the danger of someone shooting back at them. Which is good for US arms dealers, and bad for civilians in what the Saudis imagine to be their Sphere of Influence, but not ideal training for the possibility of a real adversary.

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