Is the biggest powderkeg in the whole Middle East priming to blow?
I’ve been arguing for a long time, as have a lot of folks, that the biggest problem we have in the region – and by “we” I mean people who dislike Islamic radicals and fundamentalist terrorism – is Saudi Arabia, home to Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 “soldiers.” Not Iraq. Not Iran. Not Syria. (Although Syria and Iran were more deserving of an ass-whipping than was Iraq if we’re talking about sponsorship of terrorists.) A really good analysis some months back in National Geographic* demonstrated how the House of Saud is systematically and rapidly bankrupting the country (if you can imagine bankrupting a place with that much oil, but that’s what happens when you lock yourself into large entitlements for all the nation’s “princes”) and how conditons there represent one of the most toxic breeding grounds for violent extremism in the world. Some suggest that if SA actually held democratic elections, bin Laden would probably win in a landslide. (Which would at least help us pinpoint the enemy on a map for a change, I suppose.)
So, in this context, we now have a couple developments of at least mild interest. First, King Fahd is dead. In practice this probably won’t mean much, since he’s been little more than a figurehead since a stroke back in 1995. But will the formal changing of the guard represented by Crown Prince Abdullah’s ascent to the throne be taken by some as encouragement to further test the resolve of the monarchy?
Speaking of “some” and “testing the resolve”: a senior Saudi diplomat who headed their foreign intelligence operation for 24 years says bin Laden is orchestrating and/or sponsoring al Qaeda attacks in his native country. Now, we’re open to the possibility that this Saudi diplomat may be gaming us – bin Laden poses a bigger threat to the House of Saud than he does even to the US – but the story certainly sounds plausible, given everything else we know about ObL.
Especially in governments like monarchies, periods of transition represent opportunity for political opposition groups. I don’t know that we’re about to see The Revolution in Riyadh, exactly, but it’s worth asking whether bin Laden is testing the fences, and if so, are there noticeably more breaks in it than there were yesterday? Because given the dynamics in Saudi Arabia as we think we know them, it’s not a question of whether the lid is going to blow off, only when and how high.
And if you think gas prices are high now….
* – I think this is right – I read the article up at my in-laws’ place, and if it wasn’t NG it was Smithsonian – I can get the official cite if somebody needs it.