Smart policy types like to use the acronym MENA to describe what we in the West generally think of as the Arab world. North African populations in Libya and Algeria would reject the idea that they are in the same bucket as Arabs. Persians in Iran would have a similar complaint, even though they really don’t have a basis for it. That’s all true to one degree or another, but it is a useful bit of shorthand for discussing the collection of “countries” that are Muslim and mostly Arab.
If you look at the list of countries in the group, 9 of the 19 have been something close to stable over the last twenty years. Five of those are Gulf countries. Countries like Kuwait and Qatar are basically company towns run by a sheikh selling one product – oil. Then there is Israel, which is an exception. Oman and Jordan are also special cases, protected on the sly by Israel and operating as buffer states. Morocco is a special case, since it is mostly just a tourist trap for Europeans.
The stability that does exist in this region is based in Saudi Arabia. At least it has been. The Kingdom has avoided the revolts that were laughably called the Arab Spring by stupid Americans. They keep the GCC out of trouble and limit the mischief Iran is able to spread around the region. They also quietly work with Israel to limit the violence from the Palestinians.
Of course, they work with the US to maintain a strong military presence. There are a lot of US “advisers” in the Kingdom. Companies like Raytheon have been building and maintaining projects for the Saudis for decades. A lot of this booked as civilian use, but it’s all military and all about controlling the region. Those listen posts the US runs in the Kingdom serve more than one purpose. That information is shared with Saudi intelligence. That is what has helped the Saudis control the explosion of chaotic violence coming from Yemen.
That last part, however, is where the worry starts. Yemen is a country full of inbred hyper-violent morons, who can barely organize a war-band. Yet, they have fought the Saudi military to a draw. This is a Saudi military equipped and trained by the US. They have the best equipment and the best training available, in addition to logistical and tactical support from the Americans. US military contractors have been with the Saudi military for decades, so there’s not a problem with coordination. Yet, the Saudis can’t beat groups of retarded guys armed with old AK’s.
This war in Yemen has been an enormous drain on Saudi finances at a time when oil prices are depressed. The great leaps forward in drilling technology have most likely put a hard cap on oil prices, because wells can be brought back on-line quickly. Even if the Saudis can organize OPEC to hike prices again, they may not be able to enforce it. There’s also the fact that the Saudis managed to alienate everyone with their policy of dumping oil to attack the US oil sector. The result is the Kingdom is hemorrhaging cash and will be forced to make deep structural changes.
That brings up another problem. The Saudi domestic setup is unsustainable. There are about 30 million people in the Kingdom, but 10 million are foreign workers and many of those are basically slaves. The mean IQ of Saudi Arabia is tough to nail down, but the consensus puts it in the high 80’s at the optimistic end. Some old data suggest the mean is somewhere just north of 80, which is what you see in sub-Saharan Africa and American prisons. Add in the fact that most young Saudis don’t work and you have a dearth of human capital. The general rule is you need a mean IQ of 95 to have a modern economy.
This is important because the Saudis recognize that they are running out of cheap oil to sell at huge profits. They are not going to run out of oil in our lifetime, but the cost of getting their crude out of the ground is going up and technology is allowing producers in the US to compete further up the price curve. That’s why they have this ambitious plan to restructure their economy to move away from simply being a giant oil company. They plan to open up the economy, diversify the tax base and shift work from foreign workers to Saudi workers.
Plans are great, but they rarely survive contact with reality. A country full of low-IQ nitwits, as the result of a culture of cousin marriage, is not going to turn into Silicon Valley overnight. Throw in the repressive Saudi religious culture and any attempt to open up the economy is going to run into trouble. Westerners working in the Kingdom live in compounds because the Wahhabi religious authorities demand it. Osama bin Laden was set off on his war with the West because Americans were stationed in the Kingdom during the Gulf War. Imagine what happens when Westerners are given easy access to the country.
That returns us to the central problem and why things will get much worse in the Middle East over the next decade. About 70% of the native Saudi population is under 30. They don’t work and they grew up in Wahhabi schools. The Saudis tended to export the fanatics to places like Afghanistan so they could go on jihad and never return. The more useful ones get pulled into the Saudi security services.
Imagine this process reversing and outside groups like ISIS recruiting these fanatics to make jihad on the House of Saud. Suddenly, ISIS or something similar is operating in Riyadh. There are plenty of signs this is happening now, but information is suppressed by the Kingdom for good reason. Still, smart people think this is a more of a now problem than a future problem.
Current estimates put the point at which the Saudis run low on cash between five and ten years from now. These are all guesses, of course. The only people, who intimately understand Saudi finances, work in the US Federal Reserve. The Saudis have already started a process of belt tightening in order to arrest the cash bleed, but these sorts of structural problems have tp be addressed slowly, even in an autocracy.
Maybe the new King can get the country part way to its goal of diversification and that will be enough to stave off collapse. Nothing is ever certain in the Middle East except that there will always be turmoil. All the signs, however, are pointing in the wrong direction at the moment. That means the way to bet right now is on collapse of Saudi Arabia within the next decade. That, of course, will plunge the whole region into chaos.
The other reason to bet this scenario is the West is now led by people with a childlike understanding of the world. The European leadership class, growing up in the hothouse of US protection, resemble infants. There’s no Bismarck or Metternich coming out of Germany in our lifetime. In the US, the political class has always been all thumbs in foreign affairs, but now they have succumbed to the madness of multiculturalism, rendering them dangerously incompetent.
This will not end well.