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    Middle East
     Nov 1, 2012

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Oil rulers toy with Armageddon
By Hossein Askari

Iran will accuse Saudi Arabia of essentially annexing Bahrain (trampling on Iran's historic claim to the island) and the UAE (similarly trampling on Iranian claims to parts of the federation), and stoking up insurgencies in the region and in southwestern Iran among its Arab population.

Iraq will accuse Saudi Arabia for interference in its domestic affairs by fueling its domestic insurgencies among its Sunni tribes. Iran and Iraq will announce a Shia Union. They will launch a joint invasion of Kuwait and annex it all. The US will be powerless to retaliate.

Although the US will continue to be financially strapped and Saudi


Arabia and the rest of the GCC will offer to foot the bill, the US will not want to risk a fight with a potentially nuclear-armed Iran (see below) and will not have the stomach to simultaneously take on and fight Iran and Iraq.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the US will publicly threaten Iran and Iraq and demand that they withdraw from Kuwait, but in private discussions they will tell the Shia coalition that they can keep Kuwait but must not cross over into Saudi Arabia or any other part of what remains as the GCC. This will become the red line for a financially weakened US.

All this does not mean that internal revolt will diminish in any of these countries. In fact, we expect the opposite. Demonstrations against rulers will become even more pronounced, with resulting disruptions in the flow of oil and oil price shocks. The gap between rulers and their cronies who support them and the average citizen will continue to widen.

Rulers and regime insiders will live in luxury, while the average citizen in Iran, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia will suffer from economic deprivation. Unemployment will continue to be high in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia with limited opportunities for advancement. These three big Persian Gulf countries will have large inefficient public sectors, depleting oil reserves and wasted foreign financial reserves accumulated in the "good times". The population at large will be faced with a bleak future.

Political repression will go hand in hand with economic deprivation in the three big countries, while countries such as Egypt and Tunisia will make slow but steady progress, in fits and starts, towards political participation and liberalization. The citizens of the Persian Gulf will become increasingly aware of their deprivation and the support of foreigners for their corrupt rulers, further fueling insurgencies.

Rulers will follow the lead of the US and brand anyone and everyone who fights for human rights as "Islamists" and "terrorists". Resentment towards rulers and the West will increase to new highs with more popular rebellion and military crackdowns. While Egyptians will continue to be more concerned with economic justice and prosperity, the citizens of the Persian Gulf will be as concerned with political rights and participation.

In parallel, we believe that Iran will complete its enrichment cycle to the point that it could develop a bomb, if needed, in less than three months (becoming another Japan as far as enrichment and nuclear weapons are concerned). The Iranian people have been, and will continue to be, behind this policy because of the world's support of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of his invasion of Iran and the West's shameful export of weapons of mass destruction to Iraq used in its war with Iran, killing and maiming thousands of Iranians.

At the same time, we expect that in time it will be revealed that Saudi Arabia has already purchased five nuclear warheads from an "unconfirmed" country, rumored to be Pakistan, for an estimated US$20 billion. With its previously confirmed acquisition of Chinese long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, Saudi Arabia overnight becomes a threat to Iran, Iraq and Israel. Egypt and Turkey accelerate their plans to acquire nuclear warheads.

In retrospect, US reluctance to force an end to expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank and to push for a totally verifiable nuclear-free Middle East will be seen as the most shortsighted and greatest policy blunder of all time.

As events unfold, all observers will question what good nuclear arms have done for Israel? Israel had always enjoyed conventional military superiority and US support. Israel's nuclear arsenal will be seen as only encouraging others to acquire similar weapons and pose an existential threat to Israel.

Although we may be tempted to continue and speculate on how this will play out, it is better that we stop this line of speculation here. We would just add one thing. Yes, a disenfranchised nut could rule in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey,and Saudi Arabia or in Israel. And nuts with a nuclear bomb are a bad mix, at any time and anywhere.

Can the political, economic and energy outlook for the region be very different the one we have described above? Yes, but it will take a lot on a number of fronts, especially on the part of international non-government organizations, the US, China, Russia and the UN Security Council.

Essentially, what is required is a broad-based initiative that promotes regional peace, economic justice, economic development and growth in the region, encourages good institutions and political liberalization, and forces the US, the rest of the West, China and Russia to take a longer-term policy approach to the region and give more credence to what they espouse.

Let's briefly elaborate on what will be seen as naive and wishful thinking by any realist.

  • Increase the price of all acts of aggression, political crimes, human rights abuses, plunder of national wealth, and more.
  • The UN Security Council guarantees the borders of each and every country in the region. All acts of intrastate aggression are treated fairly and justly at the Security Council.
  • If the US truly wants to practice what it preaches, it should join the International Criminal Court and expand the court's reach, powers and effectiveness; intrastate and interstate crimes - the price to be paid for aggression - can be best reduced through support for the ICC.
  • International NGOs, along with Western governments, should expose the egregious acts of Persian Gulf rulers and their wrongfully acquired wealth (and that of their cronies). This should be much easier in an increasingly wired world. Rulers, without exception, must be convinced that they will be prosecuted at the ICC for their crimes with all illegally acquired wealth clawed back to their country, thus reducing the incentives for autocratic rule and plunder. NGOs, international institutions and Western governments should publicize the fact that oil belongs to the people and that elected accountable governments should be transparent and manage it a way to benefit members of all generations equitably and equally.
  • The rest of the world can further support this transition to better governance and peace by placing a total embargo of weapons to the region. The US could push Israel to accept a nuclear-free Middle East. Yes, the drift towards the apocalypse could be avoided but it will take unprecedented vision, statesmanship and international cooperation. It is not the availability of oil at a reasonable price that matters, it is the survival of humanity that's at stake.

    Previous articles in this series are:
    Part 1: Riddle of the sands
    Part 2: The sweet and sour of oil
    Part 3: The driver of oil prices
    Part 4: OPEC in the driving seat
    Part 5: The OPEC bogeyman
    Part 6: OPEC and the sanctions highway
    Part 7: Oil-price shocks lie in wait
    Part 8: Whose oil is it anyway?
    Part 9: The dark side of oil
    Part 10: Institutions matter
    Part 11: Oil-rich rulers blind to the future
    Part 12: 'Arab Spring' without a bloom
    Part 13: Reform - or be kicked out
    Part 14: Oil's toxic partner: Guns
    Part 15: Islamic tools to the rescue
    Part 16: Policy package for turnaround
    Part 17: The old colonialism
    Part 18: The new colonialism
    Part 19: No clash of civilizations
    Part 20: Tyrants atop a sea of oil
    Part 21: A nuclear Persian Gulf
    Part 22: Conflict without end
    Part 23: Toward an oil-less world

    Hossein Askari is Professor of Business and International Affairs at the George Washington University.

    (Copyright 2012 Hossein Askari)

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