Saudi Arabia - Utopia, Dystopia or just another Mafia? Part 3
Guns, extramarital affairs, and more guns
When Ibn Saud and Roosevelt stood at the altar, hand in hand declaring their vows, the US promised to ensure Saudi Arabia’s security in return for access to the black stuff. At the outset, this was a simple and straight-forward arrangement; Safety = oil.
To consummate the marriage, the clever Americans came up with a 2-birds-1-stone approach. Instead of placing tens of thousands of American boots on the ground in Saudi to protect the oil infrastructure by spooking off any trouble makers, the US would start selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and let them do the spooking themselves. For the American’s, this was a win-win. Along with protecting the safe passage of oil out of the Middle East, they could profit off doing so while they were at it. All they had to do was keep the flow of guns into Saudi going and the oil will keep flowing out. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. What could go wrong?
The marriage started off with an exciting trouble-free honeymoon period. For the next few decades, the Saudi’s sold oil and made bucket-loads of cash and with that cash, handed it over to the American’s for truck-loads of weapons. This was the “oil4guns” hamster wheel that was set into perpetual motion.
The lion’s share of the world’s oil is located in the Middle East which makes it one of the most strategically important in global geopolitics. Drawn to the riches, the Americans couldn’t resist flirting with other states in the region outside of their marriage with Saudi Arabia.
The first hiccup in the marriage came in 1967, when a war broke out in the region between Israel and a few other Arab states. This put the US in a bit of a pickle, as like John Tucker from “John Tucker Must Die”, they had developed relationships with parties on both sides of this row.
Under pressure to pick a side, the US eventually chose Israel which naturally pissed off the other Arab countries. Among them was Saudi Arabia, who were distraught at how easily the American’s could have a fling with someone else.
After a quick team huddle, the Arab states decided to get back at their unfaithful partner. They cut off the oil supplies, causing the price of oil to skyrocket by a factor of 4x. The US scrambled to calm the situation and restore normal geopolitical relations by brokering a peace deal between the Arab states. To earn back some trust and get back in the good books, the US decided to sell even more weapons into the region.
The oil4guns wheel ramped back up once again, but this time at an accelerating pace. The US got away lucky here. They realized they needed to hedge their bets in the region and so began an extramarital affair with another powerhouse in the region – Iran.
I’m sure reading the word “Iran” would raise a few eyebrows, considering everything in the news as of late. The last year in Iran has seen innocent people killed in riots over the wearing of a head scarf, while the last few weeks has seen the poisoning of over 1000 school girls across the country. This is a rather recent and sad development for a country where this wasn’t always the case. 1970s Iran was like Donegal Tuesday of Rag Week in Galway – hopping.
Iran had a pro-Western government and was actually a flourishing society. This picture from 1970s Iran shows just how free the state was - women, in skirts, in public, reading books.
Despite the fact we are in 2023, managing to achieve even 3 out of 4 of these at any one time cannot be taken for granted. Shamefully, it is a privilege far from reality for millions of women in many countries around the world. The fact this picture showed what society was like 50 years ago stands as a stark reminder to us all for how quickly progress can unravel and go into reverse.
Besides from the wanting to get involved in the craic of Donegal Tuesday in Iran, there was another reason which made Iran the obvious choice for the Americans to court into an extramarital affair.
To take stock of the geopolitical situation here and to put things into perspective, this was at the height of the 1970’s.
The hippy era was in full flow. Ireland was busy at home losing its mind over a visit by Pope John Paul II, while also dealing with The Troubles up the North. On the geopolitical front, it was height of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Faced with a global conflict with the Soviets, and more trouble arising again in the Middle East, the clever Americans came up with another 2-birds-1-stone idea.
Iran’s location gave it huge strategic importance. Not only was Iran stocked with plenty of the black stuff everyone wanted, but they shared a long border with the Soviet Union. Iran was Russia’s doorstep to the Middle East. If the Americans could seduce the Iranians into bed by selling them guns, this would complicate the Soviets projection of power into the Middle East.
The US president at the time, Nixon, promised to sell Iran “any American arms that he desired”. Saudi Arabia and Iran became what is known as the “Twin Pillar policy” in the Middle East. The two countries were the protectors of US interests in the Middle East by securing a steady supply of the black stuff and keeping out the Soviets by arming the two countries to the teeth.
With the oil4guns hamster wheel RPMs now dangerously high, the threesome relationship continued throughout the 70’s until Iran fell out of the bed in 1979. There was a revolution in the country which saw the leader of Iran thrown out and replaced by a religious crackpot who hated the Americans as much as the Devil hates holy water. For good measure, he also hated the Saudis.
Once again, this put the Americans in a tricky geopolitical position. They had supplied over $9 billion worth of American weapons to a state that now went rogue, turning against them and in doing so, put the stability of the entire oil rich region at risk.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were doing the same thing as the Americans to earn some brownie points in the region by selling arms to other countries like Iraq and Syria. The situation became a runaway train as it developed into a full scale arms-race.
Back home in the US, there were ongoing disputes within government regarding the continued supply of arms into the Middle East with many feeling it had become a dangerous policy to maintain. In a remarkable stance on defending the policy and alliance, President Reagan stated “first of all, they’re gonna have arms whether we do it or not. But when they have them from us, there are restrictions on their use of them, and that they are restricted to using them defensively”.
This was nothing short of a comical justification for the policy, like saying “sure the lads on the street are going to buy drugs no matter what, so I may as well be the drug dealer”.
The Iron Curtain fell in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, so the threat from the north pushing down in the Middle East dwindled. However, this made an opening on the stage of geopolitics for a new character to step into. Saddam Hussein emerged as an aggressive leader in neighbouring Iraq and posed as a new threat to the region. With more trouble brewing in the region and its extramarital affair with Iran gone up in smoke, the US once again increased the flow of weapons into Saudi Arabia.
The marriage between Saudi Arabia and the US began as a simple proposition, but became increasingly complicated and strained. To make matters worse, along came 9/11. 15 of the 19 attackers involved were Saudi citizens. After this, the relationship between the US and Saudis soured and arms sales hit rock bottom.
2 years later the Americans decided to take matters into their own hands by launching a full scale invasion of Iraq. In the middle of the chaos, the rogue state Iran began supporting militants groups in Iraq along with in other countries in the region such as Syria and Lebanon which put the entire stability of the region at risk. After a few years of scraping in a tough neighbourhood, the Americans needed a mate. Scrolling through tinder, they swiped right on Saudi Arabia. Forgetting earlier disputes, the 3am “you up?” text was sent to their old flame, and so the consummation rekindled. The powerful Iranians were viewed as hell-bent on destabilizing the Middle East and could someday even close in on Saudi Arabia. The solution? More guns to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia were now armed to the teeth with more guns than sense. The Americans kept convincing themselves they had a clear conscience saying the guns were only for defensive purposes.
In January 2015, MBS became the Minister of Defense. This turned the geopolitical relationship on its head when only 2 months later, MBS began to use the American weapons aggressively by unleashing the mother-of-all-hell on neighbouring Yemen.
The level of aggression on Yemen created one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with over 16,000 airstrikes and 10,000 civilian deaths. All the while, the Americans kept providing the weapons. This continued throughout the Obama administration and into the Trump administration which even featured this visit by MBS to the White House to tickle Trump’s ego as a businessman with a huge order for more weapons:
The Saudi-US relationship had evolved considerably over the decades. It was initially formed secure oil supplies and to ensure the US had geopolitical leverage over Saudi Arabia by keeping them in their sphere of influence. With MBS’ arrival, measures were immediately taken to begin reversing the power scales and take back control.
To understand this new era for Saudi Arabia as MBS flirts with life outside of the US sphere of influence, subscribe for Part 4.
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