Tuesday, April 12, 2005

It's All About the Oil (Really) 

In the New York Post today, Amir Taheri provides a good overview of Al Queda's war against Saudi Arabia. To some, the idea of terrorists fighting against their Muslim brothers in a country held by many (for good reason) to be the largest financial supporter of terrorism sounds too much like the ouroboros. While in at least one manifestation of the ancient story of a snake eating its own tail it ultimately, in its last bite, simply disappears, I hold little hope a similar discorporation would befall our adversaries should they succeed. Neither, though, am I surprised at their efforts to take Saudi Arabia.

It must be remembered that Al Queda and UBL in particular have always railed against the presence of infidels in the holy lands of Islam. Between Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia represents most of what these people believe they are fighting for and have always held the house of Saud as a bunch of somewhat poor Muslims for inviting all the foreigners into the land of Mohammad. What we have seen the last few years hasn't so much been a change of goal as much as a shifting of priorities and tactics. The increased emphasis that Al Queda is placing on securing the Holy Land, though, reinforces the wisdom in understanding this threat and taking proactive measures within our capbilities to mitigate any potential dangers.

In this regard, I have always assumed the potential for Saudi Arabia to fall under Al Queda control has been a key component of our military strategy in the region. Key because, right or wrong, there is no denying the potential for a severe economic impact of what might essentially amount to a total loss of Saudi oil on the world market. At the very least, if Saudi Arabia fell to Al Queda our contingency planning would have to assume a loss of that petroleum to the US. Furthermore, given the cultural and religious significance of Saudi Arabia, the option to simply charge in to take the country back is probably not too realistic either.

Now, let us imagine the potential picture planners were looking at in 2002: a complete loss of petroleum resources from Saudi Arabia coupled with the presence of a hostile nation north of the potential target (i.e. Saddam's Iraq) and a need to completely stage all operations from the sea or remote airbases. Compare that, however, with the picture planners are looking at today: a complete loss of petroleum resources from Saudi Arabia, offset by purchase of resources from Iraq coupled with the presence of an allied, though admittedly not completely stable, nation north of the potential target (i.e. Iraq today) and an ability to stage and launch operations from sea and land within close proximity. Besides the WMD concerns and humanitarian issues (both important and viable in their own right) this article simple reinforces the strategic reasons that made launching the Iraq campaign the right decission in the right place at the right time.

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