Monday, June 5, 2017

Trump Blows Up The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Well, maybe it has blown itself up, but Trump's supposedly triumphant visit to Saudi Arabia looks to have exacerbated underlying tensions within the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose members include Saudi Arabia (KSA), Kuwait,Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman. This was the part of Trump's overseas trip that most US media has accepted as being a nearly great performance without any goofups (the trip steadily going downhill after that), with him getting over $100 billion in arms sales to the Saudis, and, aside from theatrics like sword dancing and holding glowing globes, getting to lecture 50 Muslim Arab leaders about what to do about terrorism, while also supporting their Sunni animus against Iran, this last part being what has led to the most recent problems.  What has happened most recently, is reported by Francis Ghiles of OpenDemocracy as linked to by Juan Cole, with even more serious details reported by Washington Post reporter Kristen Coattes Ulrichesn (this link is to Marginal Revolution Monday assorted links, go to the one called "The cut-off that is Qatar," sorry original WaPo link not working for me).  This is also a followup to my earlier post here about Trump's Saudi visit.

According to Ghiles, the split has opened up dramatically thanks to Trump siding strongly with the most hawkishly anti-Iran members of the GCC.  Those nations happen to be Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which are actively involved in the disastrously bogged-down war in Yemen, where evidence is weak that Iran is even providing anything significant to the Houthis who currently control northern Yemen and the capital of Sana'a and are Zaydi Shia.  Many reports show a major humanitarian disaster unfolding in that nation, which appears to be in the process of splitting into at least three, if not four, failed pieces, with the UAE apparently supporting South Yemen secessionists who recently took control of the airport in Aden (not clear what Saudis think of that,; this last bit not in any of the linked posts).  The key players are Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), and the Abu Dhabi Crown Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (Abu Dhabi one of the 7 emirates in the UAE), both of whom have gotten close to Jared Kushner.  Another nation more or less in their camp, if not quite as close to Kushner, is Bahrain, home to a US naval base, where the ruling minority Sunni monarchy killed a bunch of peacefully demonstrating Shia a few days after Trump left Riyadh, having promised not to "lecture" them about human rights (although he was prepared to lecture US allies in Europe about all sorts of things).

So the big news that Ulrichsen presents is a bizarre campaign in various social media and regular media, especially in KSA and UAE against Qatar, claiming that its Emir Tammim made a speech on May 23 to a graduating group of military cadets in which he supposedly said that Iran was a "stabilizing presence in the Gulf," that Hama was the legitimate ruler of Gaza, and complained about "tense" relations with the Trump administration..  Indeed, these claims were apparently made on Qatar TV on May 24, only to be retracted and taken down soon after.  The Qataris claim that this report was hacked into Qatar TV, and observers at Tammim's talk claim that he never said any of this.  But this report spread widely in the Arab world, being repeated in Egypt, Libya, and some other locations as well, and apparently both the Saudi and UAE media have continued to pound away with this story even as the Qataris are claiming it never happened and that they were hacked.  A serious irony is that to the extent this is all about Qatar being insufficiently anti-Iran, especially in Yemen, Qatar sent 1000 troops to Yemen in 2014 at the special request of Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), who apparently personally lobbied Tammim hard on this.

In any case, whether or not there is tension between the Trump administration and Tammim, he has not visited Washington, while MbS and MbZ have done so several times, and they clearly have the ears of Kushner and Trump, as well as Trump's hands on that glowing globe.  With his strongly anti-Iran talk in Riyadh, Trump has exacerbated the divisions within the GCC, where, apparently Qatar has been in open disagreement about the seriousness of the Iran threat with KSA, UAE, and Bahran for some time.

What about the other two GCC members not openly caught up in this?  Presumably they are somewhere in between these others, and apparently at least somewhat sympathetic to the Qatari view that Iran is not quite the big threat that KSA has been claiming, with the Saudis the big dogs in the GCC, which they have long viewed as their rump puppies who should do as they are told.  Indeed, there have been scattered reports that Kuwait in particular has been less keen on all the loud anti-Iran rhetoric, with them having some special credibility as they are the GCC nation second closest to Iran, so that if Iran is in fact contemplating some invasion as MbS has loudly claimed, Kuwait would be a likely target, if nothing else to be on the pathway for an army to get to KSA after briefly passing through Iraq where it borders the Persian Gulf (last time Iran invaded a neighbor was in the 1820s). 

Oh, which leaves the ever-so quiet sixth GCC member, Oman, which actually has a border with Iran and shares the strategically crucial Strait of Hormuz through which all the oil coming out by sea from the Persian Gulf passes through. They also neighbor Yemen as well as KSA and UAE.  They are not reported to have said anything, and almost certainly will not, and they have no troops in Yemen, where they are staying uninvolved.  But nobody wants to mess with them for at least two reasons.  One is the obvious matter of their sharing the crucial Strait of Hormuz with Iran. The other is that they do not share the Sunni sectarian biaz against Shia Iran.  They are the only nation in the world not to be led by a Muslim sect that is either Sunni or Shi'i, the Ibadi sect.  As a result, they prefer to stand back from this insane Sunni-Shia war, although, partly to keep the Saudis and UAE off their backs, they are formally in the GCC and regularly approve resolutions approved by its fellow members.  But Oman goes its own way, if ever so discretely.

Probably the most important sign of their willingness to act independently although also secretly, is that it was through their auspices that the initial contacts were made by the Obama administration when it began to approach Iran about engaging in the ultimately successful negotiations that led to the nuclear deal, a deal strongly opposed by both KSA and Israel on the surface, but amazingly enough not yet undone by Trump, despite his having denounced it during the campaign as "the worst deal ever made."  On that matter, Putin may have been a good influence, whose foreign minister, the ineffable Sergei Lavrov, played a crucial role in getting that deal done.  Paris agreement supported by all nations on the planet except Syria and Nicaragua?  Not a problem blowing it off.  But somebody has gotten to Trump to convince him to leave alone the Iran nuclear deal, even as he has ramped up anti-Iran rhetoric in a way that has apparently triggered or encouraged this blowup within the GCC, and let us hope that he continues to leave it alone. But Oman is having none of these wild anti-Iran shenanigans, and nobody is going to mess with them about it.

Barkley Rosser


AXEC / E.K-H said...

Banana economics
Comment on Barkley Rosser on ‘Trump Blows Up The Gulf Cooperation Council’

The last signal I received from Barkley Rosser was LOL which is the perfect analogue of a ship’s last signal SOS.

Barkley Rosser got everything wrong in his career as an economist but he was not alone in his bottomless scientific incompetence.#1 He never understood what profit is but had a fine grasp of folk psychology, folk sociology, and history as documented in his post ‘Some Saudi-US History’. In marked contrast to the majority of substandard economists, who never rise above the level of vacuous storytelling, he was always and everywhere strictly committed to facts: “Philby would convert to Islam and take several wives. He was also the father of later Soviet spy, Kim Philby.”

Except for gossip, Barkley Rosser knows nothing. As a fervent busybody, though, he has an opinion on everything. His achievements in the fields of attention- and reputation management qualifies him for a political economist.

However, the first fundamental fact of life to notice is that science and politics do not mix, never did, and never will. Hence, a decision has to be made: either―or. After all, according to the still upheld self-definition economics is a science.

If economics cannot satisfy the well-defined criteria of science ― material and formal consistency ― it faces the option of to either leave science voluntarily or to be thrown out eventually. This is not a catastrophe, though, economics can live happily thereafter as part of the entertainment industry with grand debates about free markets, voluntary unemployment, housing bubbles, the absurd distribution of income/wealth, and taxation as the perennial torture of the Antichrist=State. All that has to be done is to renounce the title of science. Because to keep this title much longer would be misleading and even fraudulent.

Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism are materially/formally inconsistent. In other words, they are scientifically indefensible. The problem is that all four approaches are tied to political groups/interests and are used as a means of persuasion/propaganda/justification. The current versions of economics have no scientific value, merely some political utility.

When Krugman supports the Democrats, when Wren-Lewis and Keen support Corbyn, when Varoufakis fights for democratizing the Eurozone, and Barkley Rosser comments on KSA/UAE/Qatar has this anything to do with science? What have they and Hayek and Keynes and Friedman in common? NEITHER of these so-called economists has a scientifically valid theory about how the economy works. So, ALL political filibuster ― right-wing/left-wing does not matter ― is scientifically worthless.

Political economists have made economics a banana science. Orthodox and heterodox economists have NO scientifically valid theory of how the monetary economy works. They do not even understand what profit is. In other words, economists have not done their scientific homework. What are the odds that these ignoramuses can ever make a sensible contribution to politics?

Economists have to entirely withdraw from politics and to focus on how to perform the scientific U-turn called paradigm shift. The new and extremely tight definition of the subject matter is: Economics is the science which studies how the monetary economy works. Banana economics has to be left behind in the cesspool of failed/fake science.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 See ‘Profit and the collective failure of economists’ said...


It has been previously pointed out to you that this blog entertains both scientific discussions of economics as well as discussions of political economics. I think I at least am reasonably clear about which is which, even if I do not clearly announce that every time I post.I presume readers are intelligent enough to distinguish which is which, even if you have a problem doing so.

I would suggest that if you have substantive disagreement with my posts on the KSA/Qatar et al situation, well provide it. I make no claim that this is "scientific economics." It is political economic observation, and very well informed such discussion. I have spent serious time in the Middle East, and I even personally know some of the people involved in what I have been writing about, as well as having studied the topic of MIddle East economics for nearly a half century. Can you show a single thing that I have written that is incorrect?

No, I did not think so.

So, Egmont, more LOL. You are just being boringly irrelevant here.

Anonymous said...

I am finding it impossible to post to Econospeak under my registered name 'Myrtle Blackwood'. It is incredibly frustrating.

With regards to Trump I'm observing that he is at least managing to unite his opponent groups.