There’s no way to understand the larger-than-life United States-Iran psychodrama, the Western push for regime change in both Syria and Iran, and the trials and tribulations of the Arab Spring(s) – now mired in perpetual winter – without a close look at the fatal attraction between Washington and the GCC.See The myth of an isolated Iran Asia Times Online, January 19.
GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council, the club of six wealthy Persian Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – UAE), founded in 1981 and which in no time configured as the prime strategic US backyard for the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, for the long-drawn battle in the New Great Game in Eurasia, and also as the headquarters for “containing” Iran.
The US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and Central Command’s forward headquarters is based in Qatar; Centcom polices no less than 27 countries from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia – what the Pentagon until recently defined as “the arc of instability”. In sum: the GCC is like a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf magnified to Star Trek proportions.
I prefer to refer to the GCC as the Gulf Counter-revolution Club – due to its sterling performance in suppressing democracy in the Arab world, even before Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia over a year ago.
Cueing to Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, the Rosebud inside the GCC is that the House of Saud sells its oil only in US dollars – thus the pre-eminence of the petrodollar – and in exchange benefits from massive, unconditional US military and political support. Moreover the Saudis prevent the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – after all they’re the world’s largest oil producer – to price and sell oil in a basket of currencies. These rivers of petrodollars then flow into US equities and Treasury bonds.
For decades virtually the whole planet has been held hostage to this fatal attraction. Until now.
Gimme all your toys
The GCC, essentially, is the core of the empire in the Arab world. Yes, it’s essentially about oil; the GCC will be responsible for over 25% of global oil production within the next few decades. Their tiny ruling classes – from monarchies to business associates – function as a crucial annex to the mighty projection of US power all across the Middle East and beyond.
That explains, among other things, why in October last year Washington closed a juicy US$67 billion deal – the largest bilateral deal in US history – to supply the House of Saud with a prime collection of brand new F-15s, Black Hawks, Apaches, bunker-buster bombs, Patriot-2 missiles and warships.
It explains why Washington will shower the UAE with thousands of bunker-buster bombs, and Oman with Stinger missiles. Not to mention another juicy mega-deal – worth $53 billion – with Bahrain, which has not gone through yet because human-rights associations – to their credit – have fiercely denounced it.
And there’s the redeployment – or, in Pentagon speak, “repositioning” – of 15,000 US troops from Iraq to Kuwait.
The rationale for all this weaponized orgy is provided by the usual suspect logic; the necessity of building a “coalition of the willing” to “counter Iran”. Why Iran? Half-jokingly, because Iran is not part of the GCC – that is, a pliable US satrapy, just like in those jolly good times under the shah.
Adam Hanieh, professor of development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and author of Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States has been one of very few global analysts trying to decode the centrality of the GCC in the imperial strategy. In a crucial interview, Hanieh outlines all one needs to know. And it’s not pretty.See here.
As Asia Times Online has extensively documented, the Arab Spring was virtually dead on arrival in the GCC. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos basically distributed loads of cash. In Saudi Arabia, there was fierce pre-emption and sustained hardcore repression in the Shi’ite majority Eastern province, close to Bahrain, where the oil is.
And in Bahrain itself, there was not only hardcore repression – with documented detention and torture of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters – but an outright invasion by Saudi and UAE troops.
The invasion may have given the GCC the sweet taste of an actual physical expansion. Morocco and Jordan – although not exactly in the Gulf as basic geography rules – were “invited” to be part of the wealthy club; after all they are duly reactionary Sunni monarchies, not “decadent” secular Arab republics like Libya and Syria.
A fair question is why the Arab Spring has not touched Jordan – since the same socioeconomic volcano that convulsed Tunisia and Egypt is also active. The key part of the answer is that the GCC – even more than Washington, European capitals and Israel – is terrified that the Hashemite throne might fall.
For immense GCC wealth it’s a piece of cake to control Jordan – a small country, where most of the population is actually Palestinian, with a tiny organized opposition (no wonder; Jordanian intelligence imprisoned or killed any dissidence). For the GCC that’s pocket money compared to the billions of dollars earmarked for Egypt and Tunisia so they don’t dare becoming “too” democratic.
There was no way for the GCC other than to become Counter-revolution Central after the initial democracy rush in North Africa. As Hanieh emphatically stresses, the ruling autocrats in the Gulf couldn’t care less about the impoverished masses in MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa).
The culmination of this process has been the birth of a new geopolitical monster – NATOGCC. That embodies the key role of Qatar and the UAE in the NATO invasion – and destruction – of Libya. Libya was an all-out GCC special – from actual cash and weapons dispensed to the “rebels” to actual operatives, intelligence and last but not least, political legitimacy, via that fake Arab League vote legitimizing a no-fly zone vote at the United Nations (only nine out of 22 Arab League members voted yes, and six of them were GCC; the other three were bought, and Syria and Algeria were against it).
And now a tragic joke reigns supreme; the GCC trying to intervene and actually financing hardcore Sunni fundamentalists in Syria under the cover of helping pro-democracy protesters. When the meek UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urges President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence against Syrian protesters and says the time of dynasties and one-man rule in the Arab world is coming to an end, obviously he believes the GCC is a colony in one of Saturn’s rings.
After the NATOGCC win in Libya, no wonder they are on a roll. The GCC strategy of regime change in Syria is the preferred way to weaken Iran and the so-called Shi’ite crescent – a fiction jointly concocted during the George W Bush administration by the Playstation king of Jordan and the House of Saud.
And that leads to an inevitable question; what are two of the top BRICS – Russia and China – doing about all this?
Enter the dragon
The immensely powerful secretary of the National Security Council and former head of the FSB (the successor to the KGB), Nikolai Patrushev – a frequent visitor to Iran – has already warned of a “real danger” of a US strike on Iran; the US, he says, is “trying to turn Tehran from an enemy into a supportive partner, and to achieve this, to change the current regime by whatever means”.
Yet for Russia, regime change in Iran is a no-no. Russia’s deputy prime minister and former envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has already stated, unequivocally, “Iran is our close neighbor, just south of the Caucasus. Should anything happen to Iran, should Iran get drawn into any political or military hardships, this will be a direct threat to our national security.”
So on one side we have Washington, NATO, Israel and the GCC. Not exactly an “international community”, as the spin goes. And on the other side, we have Iran, Syria, a fed-up-with-Washington Pakistan, Russia, China, and scores of countries linked to the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
It’s China’s position in relation to the GCC that is a source of endless fascination. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has just visited the three key GCC members – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar.
Imagine Wen Jiabao telling Crown Prince Nayef (King Abdullah’s half-brother) in Riyadh that Beijing wants “strong and reputable” Chinese companies to invest fortunes in ports, railways and infrastructure development in Saudi Arabia – part of their increased cooperation “in the face of changeable and complicated regional and international trends”. Imagine Nayef salivating over his mighty moustache, stressing the House of Saud is indeed willing to “expand cooperation” in energy and infrastructure.
What adds spice to the mix is that Beijing also happens to hold a strategic relationship with Iran – and enjoys a healthy trading relationship with Syria. So as far as the Middle East and Central Asia are concerned, Beijing is betting – unlike the Pentagon – on a true “arc of stability”.
As Xinhua has put it in its unrivalled all-inclusive style, what matters for the Beijing leadership is for China and Southwest and Central Asia to take “full advantage of their respective strengths and jointly strive for common development”. How come no one in Washington can ever come up with something as simple as this?
It’s true that whoever dominates the GCC – with weapons and political support – projects power globally. The GCC has been absolutely key for US hegemony within what Immanuel Wallerstein defines as the world system.
Yet let’s take a look at the numbers. Since last year Saudi Arabia is exporting more oil to China than to the US. This is part of an inexorable process of GCC energy and commodity exports moving to Asia.
By next year foreign assets held by the GCC could reach $3.8 trillion with oil at $70 a barrel. With all that non-stop “tension” in the Persian Gulf, there’s no reason to believe oil will be below $100 in the foreseeable future. In this case GCC foreign assets could reach a staggering $5.7 trillion – that’s 160% more than in pre-crisis 2008, and over $1 trillion more than China’s foreign assets.
At the same time, China will be increasingly doing more business with the GCC. The GCC is increasingly importing more from Asia – although the top source of imports is still the European Union. Meanwhile, US-GCC trade is dropping. By 2025, China will be importing three times more oil from the GCC than the US. No wonder the House of Saud – to put it mildly – is terribly excited about Beijing.
So for the moment we have the pre-eminence of NATOGCC military, and USGCC geopolitically. But sooner rather than later Beijing may approach the House of Saud and quietly whisper, “Why don’t you sell me your oil in yuan?” Just like China buying Iranian oil and gas with yuan. Petroyuan, anyone? Now that’s an entirely new Star Trek.