Power and Oil

In the NY Times they had an article on the possible partition of Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the Syrian uprising. It long has been taught that the borders of the Middle East are a “mistake” made by the Western powers when they carved the region up amongst themselves. The unspoken message is that all the “troubles” in the area would have been avoided had the Western powers split the countries up according to tribal, religious or other lines that could have resulted in more cohesive states. Much of this may be true – many of the borders appear arbitrary – and yet lands and territories changed hands many times across the historical record.

An area of interest to me is Eastern Saudi Arabia, which the NY Times listed (as conjecture) as possibly a separate country. On many dimensions that is logical; the population of that province has a large Shiite composition and this makes it distinct from the rest of Saudi Arabia (which is supposedly 95% Sunni, although figures are not necessarily to be trusted). Historically these Shiites faced heavy discrimination, (data is sketchy and incomplete) as summarized in this wikipedia article:

They have usually been denounced as heretics, traitors, and non-Muslims. Shias were accused of sabotage, most notably for bombing oil pipelines in 1988. A number of Shias were even executed. In response to Iran’s militancy, the Saudi government collectively punished the Shia community in Saudi Arabia by placing restrictions on their freedoms and marginalizing them economically.Wahabi ulama were given the green light to sanction violence against the Shia. What followed were fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz which denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Adul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama even sanctioned the killing of Shias. This call was reiterated in Wahabi religious literature as late as 2002.

While these sorts of oppressive behaviors on the parts of the majority are generally tied to rebellion and are logical for the NY Times to think of as possible separate states, this neglects the key fact that the world’s largest oil field, the Ghawar Field, is located in that province. The idea that the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would give up their oil, which accounts for 80% of revenues, is incredibly naive. The Saudis would never give up their oil, for it is the sole engine of their economy and standard of living. It isn’t known what they’d do if there was a serious rebellion in the area, but I would have to assume that they would take whatever steps were necessary to curtail it and keep the oil flowing. It should be relatively easy for the Saudi government to accomplish this due to their wealth and strength in numbers.

One way to do this would be just to hire mercenaries, which is a tool that the (minority) government in Bahrain is using to hold onto power. Bahrain’s situation is trickier since the Sunni government is a minority in this oil-rich country, but the use of force and violence has been enough to keep the rebellion at bay. One tool for the Bahrain government has been to hire Sunni mercenaries:

For decades, the Bahraini authorities have been recruiting Sunni foreign nationals in the security forces from different countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (Ba’athists), Yemen and Pakistan (Baluch) in order to confront any popular movement that usually comes from the Shia majority.

The idea that governments will give up valuable resources in the name of minority rights is a laughable Western idea. The NY Times map is a non-starter. The wealthy and powerful will not give up the (sole) source of their wealth without a tremendous fight from a determined and powerful enemy.

Cross posted at LITGM

10 thoughts on “Power and Oil”

  1. “The wealthy and powerful will not give up the (sole) source of their wealth (Edit: and power) without a tremendous fight…”

    Just look at the lengths the Democrats will go to make more and more people dependent on the governments, for example. You could hardly have done more damage to a place like Detroit if you’d fought a war there. That result doesn’t even slow them down or make them reflect. Ditto for teacher’s unions and fight against alternatives to government schools.

    They will not give up these sources of wealth and power without a tremendous fight, agreed.

  2. The one thing that we can be sure of is that no government of a Muslim State will shrink at spilling the blood of its people, even if they are nominally Muslim.

    Let to their own devices, they would kill each other until only one man remained.

  3. “The one thing that we can be sure of is that no government of a Muslim State will shrink at spilling the blood of its people, even if they are nominally Muslim.”

    Yeah. Since when have Germans, Russian, Chinese, Rwandans—well, actually, anyone–hesitated at spilling the blood of their own people when power, wealth, or ideology was involved? Such notions of morality are epiphenomena, trifles fit for parlor games, but not for realpolitik.

  4. But we are not the same, even if only by degree, a large degree at that. Simply pointing out that all do sin is not instructive. The issue is do we embrace that sin as virtue. I am sure we do not. Morality is not the same as ideology and neither of them are necessarily connected to wealth or power. The parlor game is to simplify by aggregation so that all such factors are reduced to survival of the clever. If that is the case then the greatest virtue is to pick the winning side, minimize personal effort and risk, and accumulate wealth and power as a result. It would then matter not which side that is. I don’t believe that. I’m willing to bet my life on that position. I don’t believe I’ll die in a parlor.


  5. Well said, Death. Many time have I said something similar: when Christians and Jews serve evil they do in defiance of their God; when socialists, environmentalists, and moslems do evil, they do so because their ideologies mistake evil for good.

    “Simply pointing out that all do sin is not instructive.”

    Next time I hear that we are all sinners followed by a quote from Luke or John, I’ll use that line.

    I think it is instructive. And damn hard to get people to believe. I have more than once in my life been confronted by people whose belief in their own rectitude was such that they claimed never to have done wrong*. They seem to have misread both Protagoras and Kant to conclude that they are the measure of things, and to act as if their will were the source of all Law.

    It is unknown them as to many that they are sinners. As Christianity recedes to be replaced by self-esteem, that belief in sin will become alien.

    * And every one of them a well-educated progressive.

    If the worst Moslems can do is massacre students in Nigeria or shoppers in Kenya, they barely weigh on the scale compared to Germans, Russians, Cambodians, or Chinese, all of whom were inspired by socialism to lay waste not merely to millions but—in most cases—to tens of millions. These are not yet historical matters as the crimes of Genghis Khan: these deeds were done in my lifetime and my father’s lifetime. Adherents of socialism are welcomed and feted nearly universally.

    How to accuse Islam of depravity when the socialist slavers who brought death camps and murder from the Bay of Biscayne to the Bering Sea to the South China Sea live yet and enjoy life? The crimes of Moslems—thus far—are less than those of Europeans. Matthew & Luke apply here.

    Do not mistake me. I believe at their cores the fault of socialism and Islam is the same: a lack of humility. Socialism cannot be humbled, but Islam can be. And should be.

    The NY Times–this map and article or (almost) any other, is proof that life, even if limited to academic and intellectual life, is a joke. Who could take such junk seriously?

  6. I agree with you 100% on the socialists. I’m not confident that the Islam can be reformed. The core of this synthetic religion is force as salvation by works. If you subtract that, it is just cult legalism and theocracy. Even its basic moral content is reserved for practice toward other members and specifically excluded for non-members. As its core it is inconsistent with either coexistence with other religions or faith systems and incompatible with the social, political and legal norms required for liberty and economic growth. I think you might consider it the aggressive religious variant of collectivism/statism.

    The secular Muslims are inherently susceptible to being cooped by the militant jihadists based on the imperatives of their doctrine and the supremacy of theocratic authority. My guess is that the militant’s power and external aggression would only be blunted when the funding sources dry up. This will require unrestricted energy development and production in the West. That is likely to take years. It seems more likely that they will score WMD capability before that happens. This isn’t likely to end peaceably and their blows will be horrific several times over before we decide to go after them in earnest and unconditionally. Can we even muster the will. Andy where are you?


  7. Mike, I agree with you, but that said, it is a great back and forth between you and ErisGuy–a rational discussion, not a screaming match. Kudos to both of you.

  8. I hope he is right and I am wrong. I don’t discount that he could well be right about Islam because this whole issue is beyond my first hand experience. I am relying on the observations and reading that I have done and believing what I have reason to think is true. The reason I read this site every day is for the education. From ErisGuy I have learned that socialists cannot be reasonably expected to learn humility to the point of giving up their core goal of controlling others, even to the point of violence on an international scale. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but I think the history of the 20th Century bears it out. Even their useful idiots are easily manipulated into supporting their obsession up to the point they are next for targeting.

    My question is why would the millions of jihadists worldwide be any less dogmatic given they are driven by a core goal of maintaining personal and family honor through conquest of infidels? Isn’t their intransigence at least as strong as socialists? They will actually commit suicide to kill infidels. How many socialists will do that? While the numbers exterminated by socialists are indeed massive, I believe given the means, the jihadists would surpass them by orders of magnitude in far shorter time.


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