The Gray Lady and the Saudis

 

Interestingly, Peter, just by coincidence, I have two books on my desk right now: One is Gray Lady Down, which Encounter Books was kind enough to send me following our podcast discussion. The other is Mitchell Bard’s The Arab Lobby, which I’m supposed to be writing about for National Review (rather than procrastinating here on Ricochet). So I’m exceedingly prepared to discuss both of your posts at very great length. However, if you think I drive you hard, you should see what I’m doing to myself: I’m in an agony of self-loathing about this review, which I’ve been putting off for far too long.

Why am I putting it off, you ask? That should be easy for me to write about, shouldn’t it? Here’s the problem: I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the role of ethnic lobby groups in shaping US arms transfer policy toward the Arab-Israeli antagonists. I could therefore write ten pages about every sentence in that book, and I’m not kidding–I pretty much already have. The subject really requires a doctoral dissertation’s worth of comment; and the more you know about it, the more complicated it seems. 

I’ll figure out somehow how to get it down to the length of a book review. And as an act of initial discipline, I’ll reply to your comment in two paragraphs. Here we go. Basically, Peter, our policy toward Saudi Arabia is a Cold War relic. We treat Saudi Arabia the way we do because institutionally–even though the policy is obsolete–we’re so accustomed to viewing the region through the Cold War paradigm that our foreign-policy bureaucracy applies to it Cold War habits of thought and action; at this point, almost unconsciously. It will all make a lot more sense if you assume that every institution through which we deal with the Saudis emerged or was shaped during a time when losing Saudi Arabia meant losing the Cold War. 

The Cold War is over: This needs to stop. But just as it’s difficult to roll back programs for government spending–they become too deeply institutionally entrenched–it’s difficult to reverse generations’ worth of foreign-policy habits.

As for the New York Times–the book is excellent. It really explains a lot. 

Members have made 6 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Sisyphus Member

    The Cold War is over, but the underlying power rivalries have not vanished. The Fulda Gap may be at little risk, but the Georgians are having a wicked time of it. And pipeline politics have been a bit over the top, that Russian since of drama is as sharp as ever. North Korea has not exactly moved on either.

    Nobody is more weary of state sponsored Saudi Wahhabism than I, but there is this chunk of the world petroleum supply just a few hundred miles from Crazy Ivan’s southern buffer states. We are one weak POTUS away from a wicked oil shortage, even if we were smart enough to tap closer sources, including shale and coal-to-diesel.

    • #1
    • November 30, 2010 at 3:54 am
    • Like0 likes
  2. Profile photo of Crusade A Day Keeps Jihad Away Member

    Why am I putting it off, you ask? That should be easy for me to write about, shouldn’t it? Here’s the problem: I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the role of ethnic lobby groups in shaping US arms transfer policy toward the Arab-Israeli antagonists. I could therefore write ten pages about every sentence in that book, and I’m not kidding–I pretty much already have. The subject really requires a doctoral dissertation’s worth of comment; and the more you know about it, the more complicated it seems.

    When I’m forced to write on a topic I know too much about to an audience that is nowhere near as fascinated by the nuances as I am, I pretend that I’ve been asked to write a speech to an audience on a cruise ship (say, the NRO cruise ship) and that usually helps me to hit the right tone and length. I use the word limit as a proxy for speaking time and the mental trick seems to work. I don’t know why it works.

    The theo-philosophical writers at First Things do this with admirable elan month in and month out.

    • #2
    • November 30, 2010 at 9:24 am
    • Like0 likes
  3. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder

    Claire, honestly. You mean to say that you read books before reviewing them?

    • #3
    • November 30, 2010 at 9:26 am
    • Like0 likes
  4. Profile photo of Crusade A Day Keeps Jihad Away Member
    Peter Robinson: Claire, honestly. You mean to say that you read books before reviewing them? · Nov 30 at 8:26am

    As Ratbert said in a Dilbert cartoon once: “Don’t go getting all ethical on us now, Claire.”

    • #4
    • November 30, 2010 at 9:40 am
    • Like0 likes
  5. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Of course I read the books. What better and more easily justified way is there to put off writing about them?

    What’s perverse, though, is that if I was obliged to write about, say, ideas for taking down the North Korean regime, I’d probably be writing about Bard’s book here on Ricochet as a way of avoiding that. Twain was so right in saying that work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do.

    • #5
    • November 30, 2010 at 9:52 am
    • Like0 likes
  6. Profile photo of Bill Walsh Member

    Don’t forget, though, that it’s not just Cold War hangover. We have a genuine convergence of interests in the containment of Iran. And as I said in another thread, the fact that Iran is poised to be an existential threat to the Saudis (in a way they are not to us, even if they manage to nuke New York) should put us in a lot stronger position to make demands on the Saudis in ways we might not have felt free to in the past…

    • #6
    • December 1, 2010 at 10:54 am
    • Like0 likes