Suicide Poker or… Arabian Roulette?

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International wheelings and dealings are like a complex game of poker where the nations playing don’t know how many cards are in the deck. Everybody hides aces up their sleeves. Everybody bluffs. Double-dealing is rife. Some sit quietly with their poker faces and wait for the best time to call. Others posture and strut. Some players excel and some can’t tell their ace from a hole in the ground.

The U.S. adventure in the Middle East has been a mind-boggling display of inept gamesmanship. Indeed, to our Great Decider it has seemed to be little more than a game all along. With the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, President Bush laid his cards on the table expecting to rake in all the chips of oil and laurels of victory to transform the frat-boy into the Great Liberator thus securing a glorious chapter in the history books. As we have seen, frat-boy’s hand contained garbage.

So Bush the Elder stepped in to save Bush the Lesser with some better players, James Baker, Lee Hamilton and Robert Gates. The Iraq Study Group thinks they know how to play the game and they have handed the dealer a new, stacked deck of cards with which Bush the Lesser can, theoretically, play to win.

Arrogance, greed, and ignorance have described Bush’s method of play in the Middle East. He and his neocon string-pullers have been playing as if they had magic X-ray glasses to see through everyone’s cards.

The game has not been friendly. It has gone on too long at too high a cost. Now there is a possible royal flush on the table… a Saudi Arabian Royal Flush. The House of Saud has run out of patience. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has made it clear that were Iraq to be vacated by the doomed U.S. Army, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would come to the aid of the Iraqi Sunnis. It has been hinted that private Saudi money has been supporting the Sunni insurgents.

Former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and member of the Saudi Royal family, Prince Turki al-Faisal stated: "Since America came to Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."

A player in this game can’t walk away from the table whenever he pleases. However, Prince Turki has suddenly packed up and walked out of Washington. What conclusions can be drawn from that recent ‘diplomatic mystery’? Did Prince Turki’s family obligations require his immediate presence in Saudi Arabia or was his abrupt departure a warning to the US?

Prince Turki’s departure could signal a serious split between the Saudi Royal family. Could the Saudi Royal family be another fatality of Bush’s failed Middle East policy? That would be certain disaster for U.S. as well.

The Saudis may be united and they may not be bluffing. Stability in the Middle East is crucial to all of the Gulf States. Thanks to the idiocy of the United States, that fragile stability balances on the edge of a knife. Bush has unleashed a war that he is unable to contain let alone win. Even if Bush were to accept the ISG Report’s 79 recommendations, his legacy would be endless war in the Middle East. The U.S. think tanks, corporations and above all the Bush Administration have no concept of Arab culture. They have played the game as if everyone in the world "thinks" just like them.

Today there are just six people fluent in Arabic stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. This is preposterous arrogance. U.S. government policy in the Middle East has ignored the tribal, family-like loyalties of Arab society. No decision Bush might make will work until this basic fact is understood.

Does Saudi Arabia hold the final ace? I wouldn’t want to bet against it. What do you think? Whether they do or not, they are no longer willing to sit by while the chaos spreads. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have stepped in to take control of the game. Bush’s cowboy policy of corporation-run Middle East is no longer being tolerated.

In fact, it seems Bush has reached a point where he does not know what to do or which cards to play.

Is Sunni Saudi Arabia tired of Shiite Iran’s provocations? Playing a game of irritating bluff, Iran has been needling the White House. Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s unyielding nuclear stance is calling America and Israel’s bluff. Are the US and Israel stupid enough to invade Iran? Was Iran’s recent Holocaust Conference a none-too-subtle test designed to force Bush and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to show their hands? Has Iran been playing a fool’s game as well?

Israel has reacted with a veiled threat to use the very nuclear weapons that they have claimed not to have.

Last summer, Olmert launched an insane attack on the Lebanon only to suffer Israel’s second military defeat by Hezbollah. Olmert is unable to stop Palestinian reprisals for greedy and brutal Israeli policy. Consequently, hard line, right wing Israeli leaders are more paranoid and defensive than ever. This does nothing but put the lives of millions of innocent Israelis in greater peril.

Have Saudi Arabia and Jordan decided that enough is enough? Are they fed up with an ignorant and inept White House that attempts to bully the Middle East into an impossible scenario? Have they decided to tell the U.S. what to do?

Certainly the Saudi announcement of support for Iraqi Sunnis states a simple fact of war. Wars cannot be won without loyalty. To win you must pick a side. Have the most powerful Sunni families decided to take care of their brother Sunnis while forcing the hand of the U.S? It would seem so.

It is unwise to ignore the culture of the Arabs dominated by tribal loyalties. The British government has just learned this hard lesson the hard way. When the British Serious Fraud Office uncovered a BAE Systems slush fund "which it allegedly used to bribe senior Saudi officials to secure contracts," the Saudis reacted with anger. A prominent Saudi businessman told the Times: "Saudi Arabia does not make commercial or defense decisions based on what shareholders or voters think. It is run like a family business. If you upset members of the family, they will simply choose another supplier." The Serious Fraud Office investigation has done nothing but enrage the Saudi Royal family. Insulted, they threatened to take their business elsewhere which would lose British industry many thousands of jobs and millions of pounds. According to the Times, BAE Systems is “the UK’s prime defense contractor and Britain’s biggest manufacturer.” Needless to say the Times now reports: “Downing Street yesterday bowed to pressure from Saudi Arabia and forced the Serious Fraud Office to abandon its investigation.” Why? The Times quotes Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General speaking to the House of Lords: "They [the PM and others] have expressed the clear view that continuation of the investigation would cause serious damage to UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation, which is likely to have seriously negative consequences for the UK public interest in terms of both national security and our highest priority foreign policy objectives in the Middle East." Sweet are the uses of the War on Terror.

Loyalty is an important factor in Arab culture. Woe to those who betray it. And the Arabs do not take betrayals lightly. That little detail has been overlooked by the West since the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement.

What the Saudi declaration of support for the Iraqi Sunnis tells the world is that Saudi Arabia will no longer tolerate U.S. pussy-footing around. Bush must choose sides. Does he support the Sunnis or the Shiites? Does he support Israel or the rest of the Middle East? If the U.S. continues to allow Israel to dictate its policy, the Saudi – U.S. special relationship, and the oil that flows from it, will dry up.

So there it is: the U.S. has been given a choice. Will it remain friends with the Sunni-governed, oil-producing, Gulf States? Or will Bush forsake the Sunnis, the Saudis and the GOP’s SUV-driving constituency and bow to the Shia majority in Iraq? Either choice will further destabilize the Middle East.

If Bush decides to support the Iraqi Sunnis that could justify his desire to attack Shia Iran. The neoconservative game of endless war may continue with a Saudi-sanctioned strike against Tehran. White House spokesman Tony Snow recently stated that the Saudis are “rightly concerned about the adventurism of Iranians in Iraq, and we share that concern.”

America’s days as a two-timer are over.

During the high-stakes tensions at the poker table, one quiet player with a very strong hand goes unnoticed. Russia. China owns the bank.

The U.S. sits at poker table with an empty hand and bad credit. Right now, it seems that Saudi Arabia holds the real cards. So, does the U.S. take the hint and play along? Can it continue its game of suicide poker? Or is it really more a game of Arabian Roulette?

Elizabeth Gyllensvard edited and contributed to this story.

Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.

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