Review: Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West

Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West by Laurent Murawiec

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

MOVIE TRAILER: Bhutto

REVIEW: “Let us admit…that the title “prince” is purely formal. Even if one were to respect the right of illiterate and course nomads to call their chiefs princes–we have no reason to be gratuitously discourteous–the demographic explosion of the Al-Saud family has created an endless supply of pseudo-princes. It even seems impossible to count this sub-species, which multiplies uncontrollably. Are there three or eight thousand Saudi “princes”? No one knows. If necessary, it was agreed–politeness to foreigners–to call the dozen bearded men in jellabas “princes.” But five or eight thousand? Inflation, as it is well known, devalues currency. The inflation of princes has devalued the title. Each prince thus bears the title of only one five-thousandth of a prince, so that at diplomatic receptions, the introduction might go: “Royal Highness the five-thousandth of a Prince Bandar,” which would be closer to reality” (229).

Yet, Laurent Murawiec, author of “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” wrote a book’s worth of “reasons to be gratuitously discourteous” (229), in his efforts to expose the everything he wanted readers to know about the Saudi Royal Family, he also freely injected caustic language. The author contended that Saudi oil came to life as a result of simply happening to inhabit the land under which the petrol sources rested. He wanted to establish that this royal family was nothing more than a self-propagating orgy of princes and their several wives to create future generations in order to maintain their power. “Saudi Arabia, for its part, modernized nothing. It was in 1957 – – and not in the seventh century – – that King Saud [SIC] issued and edict forbidding women to drive. In the name of Islam, the Saudi-Wahhabi regime has worsened the position of women. Sequestration inside the walls of home, the requirement to wear and an abaya showing only the eyes, and illiteracy and the virtual impossibility of exercising a profession, the prohibition of pursuing education abroad” (14-15), etc. Additional information included the author’s suggestion that the US invasion of Iraq existed as favor to Saudis…under threat of (Iran’s) Shia being able to obtain Iraqi oil reserves and out-power “The Kingdom.” He also delved into the formation of OPEC and OAPEC, asserting themselves as nothing more than political oil cartels, regardless of the fact that that the producing countries simply wanted control over what came from their territories. “Oil, everything comes down to oil” (179). Murawiec clearly had a problem with everybody and everything pertaining to the Saudi Royal Family, defining them as nothing more than Bedouin tribal thieves utilizing their religion as a weapon.

Despite the author’s frequently injected opinions that tended to distract from important historical facts, I enjoyed learning more about the Saudis and their relationship with Pakistan. This alliance may also have been the reason why Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prohibited from obtaining “The Bomb.” I found this to be particularly interesting because, after seeing the film “Bhutto,” I wondered why Dr. Henry Kissinger adamantly emphasized to Bhutto that he would regret developing nuclear weaponry. After all, the USA developed “The Bomb,” then the USSR did the same thing. China then sensed it needed nuclear weapons to protect itself from the Russians. India felt threatened and started testing its “Bomb;” therefore, it appeared only rational that Pakistan would develop equal-caliber capabilities to protect itself from India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was denied this power. General Zia-ul-Haq became Bhutto’s Chief of Staff (most likely at the request of the USA or Saudi Arabia), and then this man seized power via military coup…and got “The Bomb” anyway.

Mr. Murawiec did not go into all of that detail with Pakistan, because his book was about exposing the Saudi Royal Family’s power matrix. Pakistan played a somewhat minute role (in the context of their total power-base). The author explained how Pakistan’s intelligence arm, the ISI, “pulled the wool over the CIA’s eyes, manipulated American policy for its benefit, and came out on top” (77), thereby orchestrating the election(s) of Benazir Bhutto as part of a façade to appease the Western world.

While this review did not share nearly as much as what one can read and learn about in “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” my goal was to communicate that the author demonstrated compelling writing skills and strong subject matter knowledge, yet he faltered in maintaining a modicum of professionalism that one would expect from a person with his impressive credentials. I failed to appreciate when he repeatedly injected vitriolic statements such as the following: “We have seen the way in which Saudi Arabia asserted control over Pakistan, or, if you like, the Wahhabi acid bath into which Saudi influence plunged Pakistan” (107). Comments such as this one devalued the crucial information that he wanted exposed; as such, the book’s star rating was reduced.

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Review: The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

cvr_the-oil-kings-how-the-u-s-iran-and-saudi-arabia-changed-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-by-andrew-scott-cooperThe Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Copy

REVIEW: This is the second piece I have read by Andrew Scott Cooper, with the first one being “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.” I purchased “The Oil Kings” as part of an extensive book haul in late 2015, and this piece sat in rotating loads of books from my local library system and other occasional ARCs that always, immediately, went to the top of my “To Read” stack. Had I known then what great work this book contained, I would have read it much sooner! How could I ever have delayed reading about the importance Middle East oil prices with their crude mix of politics!

The Oil Kings” revealed some jaw-dropping, pertinent micro-histories:
*“Asking the National Security Adviser to rig a defense contract” (71).
*Gilda (“the most dangerous of the Shah’s paramours” (100)).
*Corporate empire fixing.
*Money laundering from Iran, via Mexico, to support Nixon’s campaign/Watergate.
*Iran’s supply of fighter jets to South Vietnam during the war.
*Instability of worldwide economic systems.
*Scathing, SAVAK-caused “Charles Jourdan Incident.”
*Kissinger’s ambitions gone too far.
*Follow the oil; it shifts the power.
*Algiers Accords: a deadly domino effect.

My jaw dropped when I read about how “1975 Algiers Agreement” (246) shifted the balance of power in the Middle East: it betrayed the Kurds, empowered and emboldened Iraq, and weakened both Iran and the United States…immediately. Secondary consequences occurred in countries outside of the region as well. This book significantly underscored the entanglement, or interdependence, of every country with another, regardless of its location on this planet. There was no where to hide from the economic fall-out.

The Shah attempted to hide his cancer diagnosis to prevent political fall-out; I had read details surrounding its secrecy several times throughout the years. Cooper included new information and wrote about it with an unforgettable analogy: “In the spring of 1974, Iran’s supreme leader and his closest aide had both contracted incurable cancers. Shakespeare could not have imagined a more exquisite tragedy of state: unbeknownst to each other, the empire’s two most experienced helmsman were mortally ill. It brought to mind another empire whose fated Romanov dynasty and the deadly hemophilia suffered by Czarevitch Alexei, son and heir of Czar Nicholas II” (167).

While the Shah’s illness progressed, his country became more politically isolated…though one did not directly create the other; the possibility existed that the ruler’s behavior drastically changed as a result of his terminal diagnosis. By “December of 1974…it should have been abundantly clear that the Shah was pulling away from Washington to pursue a foreign policy based on independent nationalism, as Ardeshir Zahedi had been advocating since the late 1960s. Years earlier the CIA had warned that as the Shah became more assertive the chances would increase that Iranian foreign policy goals would diverge from those of the United States. Whereas Saudi Arabia was making inroads in Washington, Iran was increasingly identified as a source of tension and instability” (228). The American intelligence failure pertaining to knowledge surrounding the Shah’s lymphoma diagnosis allowed for the following situations: “…no policy adjustments made, no contingency plans drawn up, no legwork asked of the intelligence community. The transfer of high-tech weaponry to Iran did not slacken. The negotiations to sell Iran nuclear power technology remained on track. No steps were taken to reduce the number of expatriate personnel. In short, the United States continued its march to folly in Iran” (280).

This folly included targeted assassinations and generalized attacks on Americans in Iran. The warning signs and predictions were in place and well-known…but they were ignored. Everything led up to the Islamic Revolution, where this book tastefully ends but includes a follow-up to what happened to some of its key players. “The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East” contained compelling writing, great analogies, and interesting stories with just the right amount of “smut” factor. This piece easily earned its place on my “Favorites” shelf.