On July 27 the New York Times reported that the Bush Administration, otherwise somnolent, johnny-come-lately, on matters Saudi, was voicing increasing anger at Saudi Arabia's counterproductive role in the Iraq War, much in the manner of Claude Rains' disbelieving exhortation to Humphrey Bogart, "I'm shocked, I'm shocked" in that great movie classic, Casablanca. Then, true to form, only two days later the same administration announced plans for a huge arms sale of highly sophisticated weaponry to the very same Saudis. The administration will need the approval of Congress to proceed. I would like to suggest a few question to be asked of the administration before the bill is passed, including:
Has Saudi Arabia taken the needed steps to end the flow of Saudi nationals from entering Iraq, enlisting in the insurgency and becoming the largest group of foreign fighters engaged as suicide bombers?
How will Saudi Arabia monitor its 814 kilometer border with Iraq and make it impenetrable to clandestine movement of equipment, men and funding in support of those interests intent on sabotaging the Iraqi government and presenting grave danger to coalition forces (please see post "Iraq's Oil Production at Post Invasion Lows. Cui Bono?," 4/02/06)?
What steps will the Saudis take to eliminate the rhetoric of jihad, and hate directed at Western and American society, Christians, Hindus, Shiites and Jews from the state supported imams and religious centers in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi funded madrassas, mosques and religious centers around the world.
What long overdue steps will the Saudis take to begin liberalizing their society starting at the very least by enfranchising and imparting civil rights to their women citizens?
The United States and a fleet of vessels from other nations patrol the Arabian Gulf in essence riding shotgun for Saudi oil loadings and in actuality protecting both her ports and insuring her national integrity. Such patrols are both in the interest of the participating nations as it is in even greater measure to Saudi Arabia's. The cost of this enterprise to the participating national treasuries approaches $100 million dollars a day. Will Saudi Arabia understand that they have an obligation to share at least half the costs being incurred?
"Lack of transparency in oil markets and poor quality of information contribute to volatility and uncertainties," so the International Monetary Fund's truism seconded by the Group of Seven (G-7) urging producing countries to lift the veil of secrecy and share data on output and reserves -- Saudi Arabia has steadfastly refused to do so. Not an idle nor in the least unreasonable request given that so much of the world's economy, as its economic forward planning, is dependent on this data. Will Saudi Arabia recognize its responsibility and provide this data henceforward?
In the summer of 2004, during the U.S. election campaign, the Saudis announced that they would be increasing oil production capacity to 11.3 million barrels a day, and if called upon to do so, could up production to 12 million bbls/day in short order. Have the Saudis ever met this pledge? They are now pumping barely 9.5 million bbls/day.
In mid 2004 Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, with oil prices reaching into the $30/bbl declared himself, one more time, to be in favor of the cartel's then broadcast $22-$28 target range. He went on to comment however that "the market desires a price of $35 because it's frightened of [the price rising to] $50." He went on to repeat his old saw that the Saudis too were "frightened" of that price because it might damage the world economy and propel the search for alternative energy sources. That was then and this is now with oil prices ranging into the $77/bbl, a staggering increase of over 50% from the already high $49.90/bbl price this January. This is an almost unprecedented move over such a constrained time period for a commodity of such major significance as oil. And this without an apparent trigger other than the restraint of production by OPEC, read Saudi Arabia. The question then becomes when will the Saudis put enough oil on the market to bring it back, at very least, to the potentially destabilizing $50/bbl level feared by them not so very long ago.
- Has the Saudi Arabian Government stopped Saudi financing of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq through charity fronts and otherwise, and how will this interdiction be monitored?
Another point, the magnitude of the arms deal is being described as "huge" and to range in the $20 billions stretched over a 10-year period. At today's oil prices that is less than the revenues pocketed by the Saudis each month.
A suggestion. If the administration cannot get accceptable answers to these queries from the Saudis to satisfy Congress, they should then give the Saudis a copy of "Jane's Encyclopedia of Military Weapons" and politely suggest to them they should go shopping elsewhere. They might even use the occasion to take King Abdullah at his word, when he branded the U.S. presence in Iraq "an illegal foreign occupation" and exit Iraq altogether (please see post, "Is it Time to Take King Abdullah at his Word and Exit Iraq," 6/14/07).