While President Trump was ensconced in a tortuous, monarchical and wholly anachronistic ceremony celebrating a $100 billion arms deal with the royal retinue of Saudi Arabia… the Iranian people were celebrating the victory of a man targeted for defeat by the hardline, anachronistic forces within Iran.
President Trump takes part in ceremony for signing agreement on weapons sales in Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)
This juxtaposition says everything you need to know about the fork in the road Uncle Sam now faces at the trail-head of the next decade.
On one path is Iran. It is trending away from its recent past, which it should be noted was a reaction against American control and interference … and its brutal lackey … the Shah.
Iran is young, populous, largely educated, tech-savvy and not beholden to the most retrograde interpretation of Islam. And Iran is the most strategically positioned nation in the region.
Although still repressive in ways we find unacceptable, its repressive policies pale in comparison to the type of extremism the Saudi rulers not only impose on their own people, but have actively exported around the world … particularly regarding the treatment and the social and professional mobility of women.
Iranian women are not “liberated” by our standards, but they are able to work as doctors, serve as parliamentarians, drive and shop and be out in public. They actually have a place in Iranian society.
On the other path is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. When it comes to what the West identifies as Islamic-inspired terrorism, they are “the arsonist and the fire brigade” (to quote CNN’s Clarissa Ward). They are the primary author of the most repressive treatment of women around the Islamic world. They are also the most hypocritical regarding the teachings of the Quran insofar as they horde wealth, ignore their duty to the poorest Muslims and are among the least observant Muslims as they jet-set around the world.
And that’s to say nothing of the countless Muslims who’ve died from the wars and terrorism they’ve either overtly or covertly participated in (with the U.S.) or inspired.
It’s About the Oil
As we all know this is because the U.S. has tossed aside all other considerations to sate its maniacal thirst for oil. There is a reason why the Middle East is called “CENTCOM”… because it is “central” to all Pentagon planning. At least, it has been so thus far because the military has largely functioned as a mercenary army at the disposal of the oil industry. And America has gotten very wealthy from this… and it also relies on the jobs generated by both oil (hello, Detroit) and by weapons (Military Keynesianism).
President Trump shakes the hand of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman on May 20, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)
Now solar and wind are not just coming … but they are here and beating hydrocarbons. Hydrogen power is also coming. And a revolution in battery storage is coming.
But Trump is doubling-down on oil, gas and coal. His Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who is sometimes called T. Rexxon, (endorsed by the petro-troika of Condi Rice, James Baker and Dick Cheney). And he is doubling-down on Saudi Arabia … a nation struggling with the emerging problem of a post-peak demand world that will not pay through the nose for their oil. Nor do they have a functional democracy that could elect someone like Rouhani.
The Saudis don’t have the economic fundamentals or the human capital of Iran … because they’ve feared those investments as a challenge to their grip on their people. They only have the United States as the guarantor of their regime. That’s why they despised President Obama and the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was a signal that the U.S. was at least looking down a different path.
However, today we see in stark comparison that America’s own pseudo-monarch and his princeling have decided to run headlong down the Saudi path. It’s a path that offers little hope for the future.