"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, May 25, 2019


If, like me, you have long wondered (i) how and why North American and British governments all maintain that the Saudis are our "closest ally" and no horrors--executing gays and journalists, denying women drivers' licenses, treating their Philippine domestics like dirt, and of course permitting no churches anywhere in their bogus kingdom--they brazenly and constantly commit in full view of the world can dislodge them from such exalted status and (ii) why this status persists when the US, Canada, and the UK are virtually energy-independent and no longer reliant on Middle Eastern oil in any significant degree, then Tom Stevenson's essay in the 9 May 2019 issue of the London Review of Books makes for fascinating reading. It is a review essay discussing David Wearing's new book AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain (Polity, 2018), 275pp.

Stevenson begins by showing that the policy of the UK and later the US since the interwar period has been to maintain such a close relationship as a means of controlling much of the rest of the world that is dependent on Saudi and more broadly Middle Eastern oil--China, Japan, and the rest of Asia above all, but also parts of Europe.

Stevenson quote Gordon Merriam of the US State Department in 1945 who plainly admitted that Saudi oilfields were above all a "stupendous source of strategic power," which power the UK and US have exploited to their advantage against the aforementioned others. But there's more.

There is, Stevenson reports, the military codependency which exists between the Saudis (and others) and the US and UK. In fact, many current heads of state in the region (Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar) are graduates of Sandhurst, which is of course the leading English military academy. And all of them buy billions of arms from the US and UK, and never more so than in the last two years. So the Saudis are armed by the West, allowing them to kill over 75,000 people in Yemen. And the UK and US both maintain massive military presence in the region, on land and at sea, all of this reinforcing to the rest of the world that if you want the region's oil you will only get it if this superpower and her mistress ("special relationship" indeed!) let you.

There is also the monetary codependency, and here is where things get really interesting if you believe, as I do thanks to Benjamin Fong's insights (some of them discussed here), that advanced capitalism is not only not a "secular" system of exchange, but a religious cult of far-reaching and almost exclusive psychic control dependent on total and blind faith not in gods but in commodities. Stevenson notes that "around a fifth" of UK current account debts are underwritten by Saudi Arabia.

But for both the US and UK, it is oil that is the new talisman, the new idol, the new gold standard. In 1974, Stevenson reports, when the US abandoned the gold standard, its Treasury secretary was on a secret flight the next day to Saudi Arabia "to secure an agreement that remains to this day the foundation of the dollar's global dominance" (a point documented in David Spiro's 1999 book The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony).

That agreement, Stevenson says, guaranteed Saudi and Gulf security (including against their own people, whose periodic attempts at rebellion are put down by police and military forces trained by the British and using British equipment, and often in the presence of British military attachés) provided that the region's oil sales were used to prop up the dollar. As a result, "a de facto oil standard replaced gold."

Well do I remember the American evangelical picketers outside our worship tent in Canberra in 1991 at the seventh general assembly of the World Council of Churches, denouncing us for "syncretism" and proclaiming the imminent arrival of "one world religion" to do the devil's bidding. But the WCC could not pull that off in 1991, for the US-UK-SA alliance, and through them the rest of the globe, had already shown that being Muslim, as Saudi Arabia is, or Christian as the UK and US try to claim, always inexorably gives way to the one true religion of us all: oil.

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