Say What?

While researching a paper, I came across a piece by Michael Mandelbaum from almost two years ago regarding Saudi Arabia and our foreign policy. Most of the article is a reasonable survey of the problems with supporting the Saudis for their oil, while allowing them to export Wahhabism. Mandelbaum then lists three scenarios for dealing with the issue. This is the third:
If the world cannot live without Saudi oil but concludes that it also cannot live with the current Saudi regime, it may decide to separate the two, putting the Saudi oil fields under some sort of international control. They might be administered by the United Nations, with the proceeds going to the world's poorest countries rather than to the Saudi ruling family. This would cut off the funding for terrorism that, until now, has emanated from Saudi Arabia. It would represent a sharp departure from existing international rules and procedures. But if Saudi-funded terror continues, proposals of this kind will rise to the top of the international agenda.
Does he actually think this sort of thing will work? What could he possibly be thinking?

Off the top of my head, I can imagine all sorts of problems with this idea. First, the UN is not the kind of organization you want in control of a lot of oil. Second, this assumes that the Saudis will meekly submit to an infringement of their sovereignty and a huge loss of revenue. In reality, this would mean a full-scale invasion and occupation, which would amost certainly be done by Americans. In that case, why not just take control ourselves? Does the Third World have some sort of claim on that oil we don't know about?

From all accounts, Mandelbaum is a sharp thinker who knows his stuff. Yet his answer to everything is a fairy-dust fantasy of internationalization and global charity to those in need. Note that there is not a single reference to military force in the above paragraph, nor is there a reference to any Saudi reaction. It's as if we could create ex nihilo a solution to all of Life's problems.

I don't get it. He saw the problem clearly, but could not bring himself to identify the clearest solution. This was probably influenced by the unstable situation in Iraq at the time, but still, he should have done better than to reflexively float off into Multilateral Land.

I don't know. I just don't know. You say the magic words "military conflict," and otherwise rational people curl up in the corner and start whimpering. That is not a great way to engage in intellectual speculation.

1 comment:

Soccer Dad said...

I don't know how relevant this is, but Max Singer wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post a few years ago arguing that the house of Saud wasn't from the oil rich areas of the Peninsula and argued (IIRC) that maybe they ought to be separated from it again. I'm not going to swear that my memory is correct except for the first part, that the ruling family is not native to the oil rich parts of the country.