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Machiavelli in the House of Saud


Life is good if you’re a member of the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, officially known as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). You can crush the Arab Spring at will. You can hire goons all across dar-al-Islam to advance a sectarian Sunni-Shi’ite divide. You can be deeply implicated in the destruction of Syria. You can treat a significant part of your own population as third-class citizens.

Not only you get away with it; you get rewarded with expensive toys. And in one particular case – Saudi Arabia – even with a two-year seat at the UN Security Council.

Not to mention that the House of Saud expertly gets away with manipulating Islam as the pillar of its “legitimacy”. The House of Saud controls the Hajj – which took place this week; an enormous logistical operation that “legitimizes” its role as leader of Sunni Islam, and automatically, the whole Islamic world. Well-informed Muslims though are very much aware of the fallacy – as much as they’re aware of how the House of Saud is fast transforming Mecca into a Vegas-style pay-per-prayer luxury resort. Who’s profiting? Certainly not the pilgrims.

This week, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced it had notified congress about selling more state-of-the-art heavy metal for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). That breaks down into “various munitions and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support” to Riyadh for US$6.8 billion and to Abu Dhabi for $4 billion.

Weaponizing “our” Wahhabi bastards is the sweetest deal for the industrial-military-Orwellian Panopticon complex. Sequestration? Tight budgets? Who cares? There’s a never-ending contractor bonanza in the Gulf – inbuilt in the narrative of the benign superpower “benefactor” of those helpless oil and gas monarchic monopolies defending them against assorted evildoers; one day the evildoer is Iraq, the next day Iran, the next day could be their own people, so one’s gotta be prepared.

Once in a while Israel exhibits the requisite raised eyebrow, but that’s just for show. Israel and the GCC have a de facto alliance against the bloc regionally known as the axis of resistance – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel would not prevent the GCC from gorging on F-15 Eagles, F-16 Desert Falcons, assorted air-launched cruise missiles, satellite-guided bombs and plenty of high-tech communication gear. Just your average, innocent “military and defense cooperation”.

There are glitches in this cozy relationship, of course. Currently, the House of Saud is livid facing the possibility of a negotiated solution for the Iran nuclear dossier – immediately after the Russian-US deal on Syria’s chemical weapons. Yet now the House of Saud has even managed to find a pulpit to voice its anger; Saudi Arabia has just won a two-year, rotating UN Security Council seat for the first time – taking over from Pakistan as an Asia-Pacific representative.

The House of Saud has always refrained from competing for a Security Council seat in the past. But now – facing its fabricated version of an “existential threat”, which is not only Iran but also Assad in Syria – it’s time to act.

So get ready to watch an angry, fearful, medievalist oil kingdom notorious for its spectacular record on human rights and women’s rights, and so fond of lashings and beheadings, pontificating on the global stage about…human rights. This is what US Think Tankland describes as “seeking a more active role in key international bodies”. When that applies to “our” bastards, of course; otherwise it’s about “terror states” trying to subvert the international order.

A number of House of Saud princes are now engulfed in a lethal battle for the Saudi succession – as King Abdullah is about to meet his maker. Are these princes worthy of Machiavelli? Don’t hold your breath.

Machiavelli taught us that individual will is as crucial as international power play in determining foreign policy decisions. The Florentine stressed how fortuna (fortune) can be capricious, and how history can be contingent. So how does a great Prince steer his state? By deploying virtu (virtue).

Oh no, this has nothing to do with the guilt-ridden Christian mish-mash, which also happens to be a crucial pillar of the “American exceptionalism” concept. It’s all got to do with classical values predominant in the Ancient World – from Greece to Persia. Virtue as in knowledge, strength, courage, and cunning.

So under this gold standard, Vladimir Putin certainly qualifies as a worthy Prince. Deng Xiaoping certainly did. Hassan Rouhani in Iran may reveal himself to be of the same caliber. But what about those angry, fearful, intolerant, yet heavily weaponized Arab princes? You don’t need to be a pilgrim to Mecca-as-Disneyland to find your answer.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at

This column originally appeared on Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at

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