So what was the Saudi purge about, exactly? And what does Yemen have to do with this? And how about the South Pars oilfield? And what does all of that have to do with the price of tea in China? Confused? Well, you're not the only one. Join James and Ernest Hancock on this special commercial-free edition of Declare Your Independence for a breakdown of the latest turmoil in the middle east and what this means for the future of the world.
Saudi Arabia, May 2017. A private yacht sails into the port at Jeddah under heavy guard. The yacht's identity is hidden even from the port authorities. Only a handful of people are allowed near it. They deliver several boxes on board and the yacht sails away.
The boxes contained cash. $1 billion cash. A "gift" from the inner circle of Saudi Clown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).
And the mysterious yacht? It belonged to The Trump Organization, and the whole mysterious incident took place while Trump was busy bowing to MBS' father, King Salman.
An incredible story, to be sure. Phenomenal, even. Trump bribed by the Saudi Crown Prince to the tune of $1 billion? The beloved POTUS selling out his country in return for some cold hard cash? It could be the scandal of the century, and it seems to explain so much.
After all, Trump's genuflections toward the Saudi royals (literal as well as figurative) and his profusions of "great confidence" in those same royals even as they commit a chaotic and bloody purge stand in stark contrast to the rhetoric of candidate Trump. Lest we forget, it was just over one year ago that Trump was railing against Clinton for accepting money from those gay-killing, women-enslaving Saudi fiends and openly ruminating about Saudi connections to 9/11.
...But is it true? Was there really a private yacht in Jeddah Port? A team of shadowy men from MBS' inner circle? The billion dollars in cash? Who knows!
The story comes from @mujtahidd, an anonymous Twitter user who has two million followers and claims to have sources close to the royal palace. And, true or not, it's being reported on by "reputable" outlets. And why not? It's salacious. It's tantalizing. And it makes just enough sense to be not entirely implausible.
In a sense, the yacht story is a good window into the chaotic "anti-corruption" purge taking place in Saudi Arabia right now, which has so far netted 201 people (and, not incidentally, 1700 bank accounts and other assets totaling a cool $800 billion). There's so much uncertainty from so many quarters that even the most outlandish stories are being taken seriously.
But don't worry, all is not lost in these chaotic times. There are some things that we do know about what's going on, and as it turns out, these things are pretty important. So let's examine five things we know (or need to know) about the Saudi purge.
1 - Kushner just made an unannounced trip to Riyadh
So guess who was in Riyadh paying an unannounced visit to his good friend MBS just days before the purge madness took place. Go on, guess.
If you guessed arch-Zionist Jared Kushner, aka meddler-in-chief of Middle East affairs, aka Mr. Ivanka Trump, then give yourself a cookie!
As Politico reported late last month, Kushner just took a commercial flight to the Kingdom (along with national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt) and returned before anyone was the wiser. But don't worry, the dutiful lapdog MSM intimated that the sudden, unannounced and completely secret trip was about...peace! Apparently Jared is just so concerned about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he's apt to jump on a plane at a moment's notice and fly to...Saudi Arabia? And then fly directly back?
And also keep in mind that the remarkable Saudi-led campaign to isolate Qatar earlier this year was also directly preceded by a Trump visit and enthusiastically supported by a Trump tweet. (And you thought the orb was just a joke!)
So it's impossible to imagine that Kushner's visit was unconnected to the incredible purge that took place just days later. The only real question is who was giving the briefing and who was being briefed? (Fun speculation: Trump's support for the purge was the price for the billion dollar bribe).
2 - Saudi Arabia is facing an existential crisis
Take a look at these headlines from the last two years and a startling picture emerges of the vicarious state of the Saudi "oil kingdom" in the wake of the great oil price drop:
Cigarette taxes, rising gas prices and state debt may seem like mundane stuff to most of the world, but it's hard to overestimate how important these types of stories are for the House of Saud. They say that revolutions never happen during periods of prosperity, and Saudi Arabia has proven to be no exception to that rule. Steady funds from the country's plentiful supply of black gold has allowed the ruling royals to essentially buy the support of their population with subsidized gas prices, lavish welfare and 0% income tax. But as the oil price shock of 2014 set in and the country started taking out loans, slashing subsidies and welfare programs, and unveiling austerity budgets, many are now openly pondering whether the House of Saud will be able to keep the lid on the tribal dissent that has long threatened to divide the nation.
The events of this past week are one of the ways that this existential crisis is playing out in the faltering oil kingdom, and if oil revenues continue to dry up, this might be just a taste of the chaos we can expect there in the coming months and years.
So how on earth will Saudi Arabia deal with these tough times?...
3 - Saudi Arabia is being re-branded
Enter MBS, aka Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He's the grandson of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, founder of the modern Saudi state, and King Salman's surprise decision earlier this year to put him next in line to the throne foreshadowed the turmoil we've seen unfolding over the last week.
To his boosters, MBS is "Mr. Everything," a "reformer" whose "ambitious plans" to modernize the state will be the only way to save the country from utter ruin in the "post-carbon" era. "His" (read: his stringpullers') much ballyhooed Vision 2030 plan to transition the country away from oil and become a dynamic 21st century technocratic marvel of the modern age includes a number of suitably outlandish ideas:
Selling off bits of the national oil and gas company (the largest company in the world, no less)? Sure, why not!
Cooler heads, however, have noted that MBS' remarkable rise to King-in-waiting is in fact an ominous sign. This is the same MBS, after all, who presided over the brutal Saudi war crimes in Yemen. The same MBS who masterminded the failed boycott of Qatar. The same MBS who watched as Iran's influence throughout the region continued to grow despite the Saudi's best efforts.
This is the "visionary reformer" who's going to lead the Saudis to the promised land of mega-cities and citizen robots? And he's going to do so by rounding up 11 of his own cousins and seizing their bank accounts? This sounds less like a vision for the future and more like...
4 - Game of Thrones, Saudi style
I know you've heard it before but this is Game of Thrones, Saudi edition.
Well, OK, to be perfectly honest I've never seen (or read) Game of Thrones. But this is what I imagine it looks like.
One of the people who paints the picture most vividly is Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, who frames these latest machinations as a pre-emptive counter-counter-coup by MBS against the forces who would prefer him not to be next in line to the throne. Forces that happen to include the CIA.
The story goes that in 2014 the US was getting ready to use the "Get Into Saudi Arabia Free" card by "exposing" Saudi terror. They were even prepared to oust the royal families of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but were dissuaded from doing so on the promise that US-friendly Mohammad bin Nayef would take over Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, King Salman took the unprecedented step of appointing bin Nayef Crown Prince in 2015, a major departure from the line of succession that had held sway until then. But when the CIA blocked a UAE/Saudi attempt to overthrow the emir of Qatar earlier this year, King Salman responded by sweeping bin Nayef aside in favor of MBS. This, as even the New York Times was forced to admit, was no mere change in the line of succession; it was a coup.
It wasn't long before rumors started swirling that a counter-coup against MBS was in the works. And so now a counter-counter-coup has taken all of the would-be coup participants out of action in a most spectacular fashion.
Or has it?
As Escobar reports, via a source close to the royal palace:
"This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders."
Now for those in the Western world who are following these events from afar it may be easy to see the dizzying array of foreign names and unfamiliar intrigues and simply shrug. It's a mess, surely, but it's not our mess. Right?
Wrong. As I've pointed out over and over and over in the past few years...
5 - The future of the global monetary system hangs in the balance
Ultimately, this is not just about Saudi Arabia. It is not just about the Middle East. It is about the future course of global geopolitics.
Sound grandiose? Well, as I've described at length before, and as I'm sure the regular Corbeteers know by now, the petrodollar has been the backbone of the world monetary system since the official end of Bretton-Woods under Nixon. This system ensures that Saudi oil (and, by implication, OPEC oil, and, by further implication, all oil), is denominated in US dollars. The US-Saudi relationship has been integral to this arrangement, with the House of Saud recycling these petrodollars back through the US banking system in the form of treasury purchases, investments, and arms deals.
But, as I've also reported in recent years, that US-Saudi relationship has shown strains in recent years. Saudi anger over Obama-era rapprochement with Iran and unwillingness to go full-Gaddafi on Assad has been met with US threats about exposing "Saudi" terror, including the 9/11 lawsuits and the 28 pages. The recent American shale oil boom has meant that Saudi has seen selling less oil to the US, and China is only too happy to step in and take America's place as Saudi Arabia's most-favored trading nation. And now China is setting up a yuan-denominated oil exchange that could potentially mean that the Saudis and others may be trading oil for yuan in the future.
This is why the CIA and other outside forces are extremely interested in what is happening in Saudi Arabia right now, and why, by extension, the rest of the world should be as well. After all, by now we know all too well what happens to countries that try to back away from the petrodollar, don't we? Only this time, it's not some "minor" players on the grand chessboard who can be taken out of the game with a simple NATO lovebomb campaign. This time we're looking at the potential of Russia and China backing this shift away from the petrodollar en masse. And we all know what that spells.
Now it's important to remember that these events in the Gulf are still unfolding, much is still unknown, and there are many pieces of the puzzle that don't fit into a short exploration like this. That's why this editorial should by no means be taken as the definitive account of what's happening in Saudi Arabia right now, only a starting point for such an exploration. I've been covering this topic in greater depth with experts in the region this past week, so please check my interview archives if you want to hear about these events in greater detail. Stay tuned for more such conversations in the near future.
But whatever else may be said, I know this much for certain: this purge will not be the end of this particularly turbulent chapter in the history of the House of Saud. In fact, it may just be the beginning.
The House of Saud is in crisis as MBS consolidates his hold on the kingdom and prepares to transform Saudi Arabia in his image. But what is behind the purge, and how does it relate to the future of the world monetary system. Join James for a classic Corbett Report debriefing on the Saudi purge and the rise of the petroyuan.
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