To Save Saudi Arabia, They Needed a Young King

Ray Mabus, then America's secretary of the navy, speaks with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, November 28, 2016
Ray Mabus, then America’s secretary of the navy, speaks with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, November 28, 2016 (USN/Armando Gonzales)

By most metrics, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is running out of time. It’s finding it impossible to balance its budget after trying to wage a failed price war on shale oil. It is lurching toward a knowledge economy but hoping that knowledge does not bring a demand for political freedom along the way. Its economic model has hit a dead end. A housing crisis coupled with high, nearly permanent unemployment is dragging down the competitiveness of the kingdom.

Plus there’s the surging power of Iran, the madness of the Sunni supremacists in the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and the quite probable retrenchment of the Americans away from their old alliances in the Middle East.

To be a Saudi leader is to look into the future and despair.

Yet doomsday is not certain. In other places, great kings have overcome the burdens of geopolitics by force of will and shrewd wisdom. Peter the Great of Russia force-marched his empire into modernity, bestowing a powerful polity for his successors. Emperor Constantine cobbled together a Roman Empire from the fragments of a century of civil discord. Fredrick the Great managed to guide Prussia from a minor German state to the spine that would eventually unite the whole country after his death.

They all had one thing in common: decades of absolute power. Peter the Great ruled 39 years; Constantine, 31 years; Frederick the Great, 46 years. They had both time and energy to fix the many problems afflicting their domains.

Now the Saudis are gambling that Mohammad bin Salman, just 31 years old, can do the same for their kingdom. Read more

Support for Catalan Independence Down, But It Could Still Happen

Celebration of the National Day of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012
Celebration of the National Day of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012 (Fotomovimiento)

Support for independence is falling in Catalonia, but it could still happen if opponents don’t vote.

A comprehensive survey of public opinion conducted every four months for the regional government found that only 41 percent of Catalans want to break away from Spain.

But those voters are more motivated to turn out. Read more

Fear That Trump Will Fire Special Counsel in Russia Probe

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of the United States walk together on the White House grounds in Washington DC, May 11
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of the United States walk together on the White House grounds in Washington DC, May 11 (White House/Benjamin Applebaum)

President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for ways to disparage Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is investigating Russia’s attack on America’s 2016 election.

The New York Times reports that Trump’s political aides and legal counsel are hoping to find a conflict of interest they could use to discredit Mueller’s investigation — or even build a case to fire him. Read more

Trump Hopes Americans Will Suffer And Blame His Opponents

American president Donald Trump visits Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Memorial Day, May 29
American president Donald Trump visits Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Memorial Day, May 29 (US Army/Elizabeth Fraser)

We knew Donald Trump has a cruel streak and always puts his own interests first, but it’s still shocking to hear him brag about the harm he is planning to do to millions of Americans — and how he hopes to benefit from it politically.

After Senate Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump said:

I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.

Jonathan Bernstein writes at Bloomberg View that none of Trump’s predecessors was willing to trade the welfare of the American people for their own (perceived) political gain:

Imagine if Ronald Reagan had said after Congress prohibited him from aiding anti-communists in Nicaragua: “Fine. I’ll just surrender to the USSR today. That’ll show ’em!” Or if Franklin Roosevelt, faced with sharp congressional resistance from isolationists, decided to disarm and allow the Axis to proceed at will. Or if George W. Bush had reacted to the first defeat of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 by publicly rooting for a worldwide economic meltdown.

Read more

Once the Party of Stability, Conservatives Now Provoke Unrest

British prime minister Theresa May and American president Donald Trump speak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, January 27
British prime minister Theresa May and American president Donald Trump speak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, January 27 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Jay Allen)

Kate Maltby argues in The Guardian that Britain’s Conservative Party has lost its way.

For centuries, Conservatives warned against the dangers of too much change too quickly, she points out. They argued revolutions leave children starving and adults bleeding. That stability leads to prosperity. That inequality is a price worth paying for economic growth.

Don’t rock the boat, don’t scare the banks and the middle classes get their quiet life.

Remember the “long-term economic plan”? It was only two years ago that David Cameron couldn’t stop talking about.

Then his party brought Brexit on the United Kingdom. Read more

Resistance to Trump Is Making Strange Bedfellows

Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah attends the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 3, 2016
Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah attends the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 3, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Democrats in the United States are heaping praise on Republican senator Susan Collins for taking a stand against her party’s health-care reforms.

The praise is deserved. Collins, a centrist Republican from Maine, refused to support a plan that would have taken health care away from millions of low-income Americans while making it cheaper for the wealthy.

But it’s too bad the left doesn’t extend the same gratitude to conservative purists who joined her.

None of the other supposedly moderate Republicans in the Senate supported Collins in her fight against the rushed effort to replace Obamacare. They all caved to right-wing pressure.

Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Rand Paul of Kentucky held firm. Read more

Immigration Lessons from Canada

A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013
A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013 (Adrian Berg)

Joseph Heath, a professor at the University of Toronto, sees five reasons why Canada has been more successful at integrating migrants than Europe and the United States:

  1. Very little illegal immigration. This helps explain the difference in attitudes with the United States but not with Western Europe, where illegal immigration is also low.
  2. A political system that encourages moderation. I think this has more to do with political culture than the system. Heath argues that first-past-the-post makes it difficult for nativists to prevail. Parties need to appeal to the center. But it doesn’t stop nativists from influencing the mainstream right, as they did in the United Kingdom. To stem defections to UKIP that could split the right-wing vote and allow Labour to sneak into first place, the Conservatives felt they had to become more insular. And clearly in a two-party system, like America’s, nativists can come out on top.
  3. Immigrants are part of larger nation-building project. Immigrants ended up strengthening Canadians’ sense of nationhood because, unlike the First Nations, Westerners and Quebecers, they embraced national symbols. Persuasive, but it’s hard to see how other countries could mimic this.
  4. Protection of majority culture clear from the start. This is rooted in Canada’s unique history but could be a lesson to others. Heath argues that the need to appease Quebecers led to equal cultural and language protections for the English and French, as a result of which the majority felt unthreatened by newcomers.
  5. Bringing people in from all over. I think this is the key. There is no “majority minority” in Canada. Heath reports that, in a typical year, no group makes up more than 15 percent of the total number of immigrants. Hence no parallel societies could emerge in Canada, like the predominantly Muslim banlieues of Paris, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Latino districts in major cities across the United States. Their existence hinders assimilation and makes visible the threat immigrants pose to the dominant culture. Read more