A Look At The New Saudi Arabia

I first wrote about Mohammed bin Salman and his profound, forward-thinking plan for Saudi Arabia in May of 2016 (search for Vision 2030 on this blog will to take you to the specific posting).

This weekend, the Crown Prince, also called “The Face of the Future,” took to task one of the salient commitments of Vision 2030, and that is:

[To] embrace transparency and, to that end, zero tolerance for all levels of corruption.

The weekend detention of 17 of Saudi’s most prominent princes and top officials demonstrated his commitment to the plan – and his country.  Those that put their personal interests over that of their country and who continue to steal public funds, found that the Crown Prince has a zero tolerance for the “old ways” of conducting business.

But that wasn’t the Big News Story of the day for Riyadh.

Intercepting a Burkan 2-H ballistic missile targeted for King Khalid Airport in the heart of the city was truly the breath-taking moment – for all of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has long had its differences with Yemen, but the Saudis see the bigger picture here – the one that suggests that Iran is subsidizing (and supplying) the Houthi rebels, as the weapon was disassembled, smuggled into Yemen, and then reassembled before being launched.  Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir claimed in an interview for CNN that the Saudis consider this act to be an act of war – and will “respond when the time is appropriate.”

Chilling words in an area where the balance of power can tip the scales at any given time; however, bold acts do not go unnoticed.  As the Foreign Minister stated, “Iran cannot lob missiles into Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to act.” No free passes here.

Make no mistake.  Iran is testing the young Saudi Prince’s resolve – at a time when all eyes are upon him as he committed to expel corruption at its highest level from Saudi Arabia.

If Iran’s boldness has been done with the perception that it has the power of Russia behind it – this could be a strategic miscalculation.  Russia looks out for Russia first.  It would not be surprising to find Mr. Putin looking the other way – perhaps foraging his own agenda with the new Saudi Arabia.

To that I would say … beware, my sweet Prince.


A Prince … And A Vision

He’s Second Deputy Prime Minister, the youngest Minister of Defense in the world, Chief of the House Royal Court, and Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs.  If you don’t know who this is — you should!

He is 30-year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — also referred to as the “Face of the Future.”

Undoubtedly, he earned that reputation after having devised and presented to the Council of Ministers on April 26, 2016, a plan for Saudi Arabia’s future — adeptly called “Vision 2030.”

It is a somewhat lengthy plan which you can read in its entirety at the link provided below, but in reading through it, several things resonated with me.  The clarity and focus of the plan is indisputable.  The perspective of which he sees Saudi Arabia’s future as a global citizen is well-balanced and meaningful, inclusive of all its citizens.  It is a bold plan to reshape Saudi Arabia’s economic focus away from oil exports to a larger, broader and more encompassing vision — that which includes tourism, sporting events, entertainment, education through arts, museums and libraries, just to name a few.  In his words, “A vibrant society with fulfilling lives.”

Here are a few proposals from Vision 2030 that particularly stood out to me — and perhaps they will for you, too:

Among our commitments:

A flourishing retail sector

A developed digital infrastructure

Increasing direct investment from 3.8% to international level of 5.7% of GDP

Raise share of non-oil exports from 16% to 50%

Embrace transparency and, to that end, zero tolerance for all levels of corruption

Publish plans and performance indicators for public monitoring

Engage everyone so that “the government can serve them better and meet their aspirations …”

Efficient spending and balanced finances

Be sure that Saudi services “are performing well in accordance with global best practices”

Establishment of HR centers of excellence in every government agency

“Working with our economic partners around the world to build new strategic partnerships for the 21st century”

Given that more than one-half of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25, I believe he has a wide and malleable audience.  His leadership skills were evident with the following assertions:

[Be] an ambitious nation — responsibly enabled

Be responsible for our lives

Be responsible to society

Remember our lifelong obligations to our families

Become independent and active members of society

We are each personally responsible for our own futures

And perhaps the most provocative statement of all:

“We all have the means to achieve our dreams and ambitions. There are no excuses for us to stand still or move backwards. Our vision is a strong, thriving, and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all.”

A Deputy Crown Prince today — but a King tomorrow.

As-Salaam-Alaikum …… Peace Be Unto You




The Winds of Change

Since the death of King Abdullah last January, and the ascension of King Salman, Saudi Arabia has repositioned itself in a strategic sense, both economically and politically.

King Salman has shuffled his cabinet twice and has named his son as second-in-line to the throne — an ambitious agenda indeed — considering the nine short months that have passed.

But more interesting things have transpired.

Both Russia and Saudi Arabia have long exported oil to China, but last May, the Russian supply surpassed that of the Saudis.  That event, along with China’s devaluation, inspired the Saudis to reassess their priorities.  Having received competitive pressure from the U.S., Russia, Iran and Nigeria (just to name a few), the decision was made to squeeze the market in the hope of knocking out its competitors.  Saudi Arabia adopted what is known as the “pump-and-dump” strategy by refusing to cut oil production, thus driving the cost down from $100 per barrel then — to where it stands today — $47.00 per barrel.  That’s a big hit when you consider 80% of their government’s economy is generated from their oil industry.

In addition to that, their military budget has increased 17% from last year, clearly a reflection of its involvement in Yemen and recent airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has burned through US $68 billion (or 9%) of its war chest in the last six months  — interestingly beginning three months after the death of King Abdullah.  Fund managers, too, have been asked to unload $70 billion in assets by the Saudi government while new infrastructure projects are being curtailed.   It is obvious that it’s a country tightening its belt while it waits out its pump-and-dump strategy.  But it isn’t standing still.

It recently reached out to Poland with deeply discounted oil prices, beating out Russia who had been Poland’s long-time supplier.  This has not gone unnoticed by Vladimir Putin.

His Middle Eastern strategy is that Russia’s alliance with Syria will produce a more profitable partnership between the countries — perhaps with pipelines running through Syria. It is important to Putin that the Saudis do not gain export routes in the region and that Russian strategy prevails (Bloomberg.com).

At the same time, King Salman is lending support to its allies in order to keep a strong foothold in an area whose future is seeing threats from many directions, while tightening its belt and slowing gaining market share around the world.

Last week, I asked the question of what was in it for Russia as it pertains to Syria.  It would appear that it is more important than ever for Putin to resolve the Syrian conflict on his terms, given what is at stake.

Perhaps this is a deeper and more introspective answer to that question.


Domination – Putin-Style

Ever wonder what Putin’s objective is in Syria?  What’s there to gain?  Why does it feel like a sleeping giant has been awoken?

Russia has in many ways remained in the background for the last decade as it grappled with the world recession and as it simultaneously realized that it could no longer control the information its constituencies were fed.  Armed with this now-available information, a great deal of the Russian people were leaning towards democracy — something that surely made the walls of the draconian Kremlin crack in sheer despair.

Some may remember the Old Russia — like a time in the fall of 1960 when Nikita Krushchev unceremoniously took off his shoe during a session of NATO and banged the heel of it on the table before him during an angry and threatening tirade.

Or you may remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 when the U.S. and Russia played a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that left the world teetering on the edge of a full-out nuclear war.  Who doesn’t get a shiver down their spine just thinking about that?

But that was the old, black, dark, cloak-and-dagger Russia.

Today, we have the face of Vladimir Putin that represents Russia and its interests.  He’s a risk-taker of the highest proportions.  He’s in it for anything and everything.

So, back to Syria.  What’s in it for Putin?

It’s not that he wishes to fight a conventional war, although he is enjoying his display of what he most assuredly feels is Russian air superiority over Syria.  For a conventional war, Russia would need deep pockets, something that it just does not have.  In fact, experts on Russian economics project that at the rate the country is using its reserves, it could run out as early as 2017.

It’s about oil — crude oil.

And so, now you see that it’s about economics, too.  If Assad’s current regime stays in control through Putin’s backing, it is likely that they will repay the favor to Russia in lower crude oil prices in the future.  And if the by-product of Putin’s stand shows the leaders in the Middle East that Russia can be a strong ally, all the better for Putin and Russia’s future.

And then there  is the second war he is waging.  One of deception, fraud, broken promises and lies to world leaders.  This is a concerted effort on his part, not something that inadvertently lingers in his wake.  Because he’s a risk-taker, his objectives are to make the U.S. and its Western allies look hesitant and indecisive which, from some people’s perspective, he did with challenging the U.S. not to interfere in Syrian air space.  Interestingly, the U.S. chose instead to show restraint.  After all, not every war is our war.

So, Putin — desperate to show Russia as a force to be reckoned with — will stop at nothing, it seems — even showboating.  He attempts to show himself as a virile male — like recent rumors conveniently leaked to the world press that his “disappearance” several months ago was to be at the birth of his child and by the side of his mistress.  Or, by the carefully orchestrated video of him at 63 riding a horse shirtless.  Seriously?

So, don’t listen to Putin; instead, watch his actions.  Listen for his disinformation.  Hear his broken promises.  They all speak louder than words.


Writing about world events for my books during very specific time periods has caused me to do a great deal of roll-up-your-sleeves research, such as “What was America’s political relationship with Iran in 1969-70?” — a quest for my latest book, Shamar.  Several years ago, while I was writing the story contained in my second book, Zurich, I found the need to research what Israeli combat tactics were and what methods worked, or didn’t work, and why.  The search pushed me in the direction of a blog called “A Cop’s Watch,” authored by a Texas law enforcement officer, whose blog just happened to show a short video of Israeli tactics that had been taught to law enforcement groups in various parts of the world.  Since then, I’ve continued to read his blog and have found his viewpoints strongly routed in reality, but also refreshingly candid, including his continual quest for “the best Scotch Whiskey.”  (Who wouldn’t envy that journey?)  Through this blog, I became acquainted with a geopolitical web site known as “Stratfor.”  Statfor is primarily a subscription-based site, but they do offer many free articles on geopolitics that are written in an impartial, journalistic style.  Today, I took time to read their article on why they post a Geopolitical Diary.  I found this so reflective that I wanted to share this with all of you:

Reflections on the Geopolitical Diary

We have always wanted to take some time to explain to our readers what the Stratfor Geopolitical Diary is, how it differs from other things we publish and why we produce a diary. We haven’t had the opportunity to do so simply because we were too busy writing diaries and not taking the time to reflect on them. But today is one of those odd days in which, while many things happened, none of the events were so important as to require memorialization. This gives us a chance to explain what we are doing.

A diary isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a listing of things that you have done or that happened. Rather, a diary should be a reflection of life through the prism of an event that happened that day. Where an analytical piece is about the event, the diary should be a search for the deeper meaning embedded in that event or even of a thought that is a diversion of the event.

Wednesday’s diary was about the identification of the killer in France as a jihadist. But that was merely an introduction to a broader problem, which is the tension between profiling and democratic values, between the right to be safe and the right not to be targeted because of membership in a group. The shooting was addressed in articles during the day, but for the Geopolitical Diary, it was an occasion to consider the broader issues that had been raised as a result of the shooting.

Living through a day is daunting. The details of living can overwhelm and exhaust the mind. It can also blur the distinction between the significant and the trivial. A diary is best written at the end of the day, when events seem to cease, and a quiet descends on the mind. Then the diarist should ask two questions. The first is to identify the significant event of the day. The second is to define why it was significant. Sometimes the most important event of the day might seem trivial to others, until, on reflection, it emerges as the most important thing. So, for an individual, the most important event of the day might be as significant as getting a raise, or as seemingly insignificant as a stranger’s smile.

When we apply this to global events, the most important event of the day might be the story that dominated the world’s newspapers. On the other hand, it can be a minor event that was given little notice but happens to provide insight into the nature of things. Thus, a world leader’s press conference may be on the front page of every newspaper but be worth noting only because it happened. On the other hand, the death of someone of little importance, that goes unnoticed in the press, might provide an opportunity to think more seriously about how the world works.

For Stratfor, as for any diarist, the Geopolitical Diary allows us to distinguish the important from the unimportant, based not on the attention the matter got nor even necessarily about the consequences of the event, but on what it teaches us about how the world works. Our diary is therefore an idiosyncratic work, because all diaries should be unique. Diaries are meant to memorialize private thoughts. Our diary is published, which in a sense violates the principle of a diary, but then it is not about private but public things.

Writing a diary requires discipline. It must be done regularly and days like today, when nothing obvious leaps to mind as being pre-eminently important, are perhaps the most precious. It allows the mind to wander, which can be more productive than having a singular focus. But a regular diary also poses challenges. It sometimes slips into events that are in fact banal. It sometimes draws meanings that in retrospect were true only on that particular night.

In the end, a diary is a writer’s dialogue with himself. It is an ongoing conversation that chronicles not only the world, but also the writer’s place in it. For Stratfor, that means that unlike analyses and the majority of our other daily output, a diary should not be read in isolation, but rather as a stream of reflections. A diary is the output of the wandering mind trying to grasp the meaning of the day. In the end, a diary should drift between the obvious and the surprising, the clear and the esoteric. But if it is successful, it should always surprise, particularly it should surprise the writer who didn’t know what he wrote until he wrote and digested the diary entry.

Particular entries in diaries are not always successful. Like all things, their value varies. But diaries should be judged on the whole. The Geopolitical Diary is the antithesis — or should be — of the daily, detailed chronicles we produce. This particular reflection is extreme, and won’t be repeated often, but sometimes leaving the path altogether is the best course. Stratfor’s Geopolitical Diary should be written and read differently from other things we write.

“Reflections on the Geopolitical Diary” is republished with permission of Stratfor.
“<a href=”https://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/reflections-geopolitical-diary”>Reflections on the Geopolitical Diary</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Reading Stratfor’s articles is my way of trying to understand world events and the historic background that often colors them.  Besides fulfilling my commitment to self-education, it does, in so many ways, benefit me as an author, and perhaps, exponentially, you, as my audience.
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