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Editorial We need a more morally sustainable relationship with Saudi Arabia

IT IS hard to imagine a more unsavoury partnership than one that subordinates our foreign policy to the alliance of Donald Trump’s US and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia.

From Santiago to Sanaa, murder, mayhem and the overthrow of governments that displease the rulers of Britain and the US’s interlocking empires is old news.  

Provisionally, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we may be able to acquit British diplomats of any suspicion that our missions abroad double up as killing grounds.

The same cannot be said for our Saudi allies. There are compelling accounts that a former Saudi insider turned critic, Jamal Khashoggi, was lured to Saudi Arabia’s Ankara embassy, there to be dismembered by a squad of bin Salman’s goons and spirited away in pieces.

One wonders how the after-dinner conversation might go when Saudi royalty next renews its generations-old intimacy with our own monarch’s family.

The context of these events is the US drive to ensure that no power is dominant in the region and that existing regimes are dependent upon or constrained by the US. 

US strategy is inherently unstable in that it depends on a chain of oppressive regimes that each are in a state of economic crisis, incipient internal revolt or external conflict.

We may never know the precise details of Kashoggi’s departure but that he was a protege of bin Salman’s rival Prince Turki bin Faisal is undoubtedly one explanation for his unfortunate circumstances. 
Bin Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief (and ambassador to the US) pioneered moves to deepen the intelligence-sharing arrangements between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which sit comfortably with the shared intimacy of British and US operations in the region.

It is a fruitless exercise to speculate how the clash of many contradictory interests culminated in this particularly public atrocity but the instability of the Saudi state and its riven ruling families pose a growing threat to the imperial powers, to profits and to capital flows.

The profits of two of Britain’s biggest multinationals, BP and Shell, derive from their Middle East operations and Britain’s dependency on gas and oil imports from the Gulf is increasing.

British exports, as a proportion of the total, are rising to the Middle East and with half of Britain’s arms sales going to Saudi Arabia and the $2 trillion Saudi sovereign wealth fund looking for a safe haven, the links between the ruling elites are seen by both as vital.

The City and the commercial property market are reliant on Middle East money. From the Olympic site to Canary Wharf, Harrods and Chelsea Barracks to the Shard and City Hall, London’s night-time skyline is lit up Middle Eastern loot.

Capital flows of these dimensions impose their own logic which is why Britain’s decision to leave the EU challenges the role of the City of London as the base for US banks, the centre for dollar transactions and management of financial services in the EU.

There are many stresses in the relationship between Trump’s US administration and the EU, and Brexit diminishes the leverage which Anglo-American monopoly capital — independent of who sits in the White House — exercises, the limits it imposes on French and German capital and the guarantees for the Nato alliance that British membership entailed.  

A new government needs to establish morally sustainable relations with Middle Eastern countries. This will entail a fundamental shift in industrial policy as well as controls on capital flows and a new foreign policy that takes into account the oppressed peoples of the region rather than their rulers.



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