The Middle East Shell Game

As I said in a previous post, one disturbing thing about the Bush Administration’s drive to attack Iraq is the lack of a convincing reason why. The current focus on Iraq’s refusal to allow weapons inspectors into the country came only after the Bush Administration failed to tie Saddam Hussein directly to the Al Queda terrorist organization. Because the weapons inspectors have been barred from Iraq since 1998, and have been prevented from investigating thousands of acres of “presidential palaces” since 1991, this sudden focus rings false. The Bush Administration had nine months in 2001 to make an issue of Saddam’s destructive power. They didn’t. Why are they so interested now?

I came upon a theory which provides a possible answer — an answer that has nothing to do with Iraq. I should stress that this is only a theory, but the fact is that the United States is growing concerned about the increasing instability of Saudi Arabia. They should be concerned. Saudi Arabia has a large radical faction within its borders. This is Osama Bin Laden’s home country, after all, and he is a popular figure among some over there. Right now, the father of the Saud family is keeping the country together, but he won’t live forever. The country has no tradition of a democratic government (it is an absolute monarchy), and his sons have differing ideas about the direction the country should take once their father passes on, especially with regard to relations with the West.

If a radical faction takes over Saudi Arabia while Saddam Hussein still controls Iraq, the United States (and the rest of the West) would be in trouble. Well over a quarter of the world’s oil supply is contained within the borders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. If Iraq were pumping without restriction today, oil prices would drop from $20 a barrel to $9. If Saudi Arabia stops pumping, oil prices could double.

So, the theory goes, rather than try to forestall a radical takeover of Saudi Arabia, invade Iraq instead, topple Saddam, install a Western-friendly leader to turn on the taps, and route oil through Turkey and Europe so that the West’s energy supply is maintained even as Saudi Arabia collapses.

If there is any truth to this theory, it is not only a cold policy, it’s downright cynical.

This is why it’s a challenge to be an optimist in today’s world.

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