Using The Wall Street Journal for either news or analysis presents considerable risks. Last week the website Zero Hedge published and SLL reposted an article, “WSJ Notes ‘Chances That China’s Data Is Real Is Very Low’ Then Promptly Scrubs It.” China reported second quarter GDP growth of 7 percent to widespread skepticism. In its initial online story, the Journal included a quote concerning the growth figure.
“The chances that that data is real is very low,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, Natixis’s chief economist for the Asia-Pacific region. “Would you publish GDP data that looks south at this point in time? I don’t think so.”
However, when the final draft was published, the quote from Nataxis’s Herrero had been deleted.
Most financial research—from all sources—coming out of Hong Kong and China about the Chinese government or its policies is sterile and circumspect, and therefore suspect. Even bearish calls on the economy or financial markets are rare; they can imply inefficacy of the government’s policies. It is quite sensitive and sometimes takes action against those who don’t toe the line, understandably frightening everyone else. Did the Journal self-censor itself to avoid giving offense by eliminating the suggestion that Chinese numbers are not “real”? We may never know, but it is certainly a plausible explanation.
That the Journal would kowtow to the Chinese government is disturbing, and if it did both its veracity and integrity are impugned. However, its stance toward Saudi Arabia’s government abandons even the facade of objectivity.
Wednesday, the Journal published an editorial, “What Will the Arabs Do Now?” that could have been written in Riyadh. There should have been a border around the editorial with the label ADVERTISEMENT. The opening paragraph implores those always reticent Middle Eastern Arab nations to speak up and let their opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal be known. Is there any reasonably well-informed person on the planet who does not know the Arab position on the Iranian deal? For anyone still ignorant, consider the recent Arab snub of President Obama. Subalterns instead of the invited heads of state attended a conference in Washington in which he attempted to explain and defend the preliminary agreement with Iran. Arab feelings are no mystery.
And the Journal is deeply empathetic.
The prospect of a nuclear-threshold Iran newly fortified with cash from sanctions relief has to be terrifying for its [Saudi Arabia’s] Sunni Arab neighbors. Tradition Persian imperialism combined with Shiite revolutionary fervor make for a fearsome regional threat, especially with President Obama signaling U.S. retreat from the region. Iran is now the most important foreign influence in Baghdad, and its Shiite militias are more powerful than Iraq’s army. Iran will have far more resources to spend arming its Shiite and other proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Why should the US care if Sunni Arabs are terrified? We know the answer to that one, which we’ll get to later, but are Sunni Arabs any less terrifying than Shiite Iranians? Saudi Arabia and Iran are both repressive, fundamentalist Islamic theocracies. The Journal warns of Iran having more resources to fund its “proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen,” but never mentions Saudi Arabia and its Sunni neighbors’ proxies: Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia is fighting alongside Al Qaeda against Shiite Houthi rebels who overthrew a US-backed government (installed without an election). Although ostensibly part of a US alliance against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Arab Gulf States have aided and abetted those Sunni forces.
Iran’s support of fellow Shiite Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Shiites in Lebanon and Syria, is worrisome to the Journal, but the Arabs get a free pass for their support of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. You might think that the US had picked sides in the never-ending Sunni-Shiite conflict, a fools’ errand (see “Deal Us In!”). Unfortunately, the American government’s foolishness goes beyond that: it’s on both sides of the conflict. It has installed a majority Shiite government in Iraq and trained its military. Not too well, evidently; the Iraqis main battle plan against Islamic State has been retreat. Iran’s Shiite militias, which the Journal notes are more powerful than Iraq’s army, have actually won battles against Islamic State. However, nobody in the US government or at the Journal will admit that the US and Iran are on the same side in that fight, or that Iran has aided the US.
The Journal’s primary concern is that Iran might obtain nuclear bombs, and it raises the possibility that an Iranian bomb would set off a Middle Eastern arms race.
He [Saudi Prince Alaweed bin Talal] all but said the Saudis could purchase a nuclear bomb off the shelf from Pakistan given the close ties between the countries.
Prince Turki al Faisal, Riyadh’s former intelligence minister, was even more blunt this March, saying the Kingdom “will want the same” nuclear technology Iran is granted in a deal. That would include a plutonium reactor and thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium.
If the possibility that Iran after the agreement might someday develop a nuclear weapon (but only after a great deal of subterfuge, effort, and expense) is disturbing, why has nobody worried that Saudi Arabia might buy bombs from Pakistan, which Prince Alaweed bin Talal implies they could do? If the possibility of a bomb in the hands of fundamentalist, repressive, terrorism-fomenting Iran sparks horror, why does it not do so in the hands of fundamentalist, repressive, terrorism-fomenting Saudi Arabia? For that matter, is anyone concerned that Pakistan, a corrupt, politically unstable, Muslim state (with a Sunni majority) already has the bomb? It would seem that if we are to lose sleep over the prospect of an Iranian bomb years down the road, then the present reality of a Pakistani bomb should induce nonstop insomnia.
As for the possibility that Saudi Arabia could develop the same nuclear technologies that Iraq will be permitted to develop under the agreement: it has had that option for years and retains it whether the agreement is adopted or not. Saudi Arabia and Iran have both ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), which allows participants to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Under the agreement, Iraq can continue the peaceful nuclear research that it has the right to continue under the NNPT. The safeguards are designed to prevent it from developing prohibited military applications, that is, nuclear bombs. Saudi Arabia has always had the same right to pursue peaceful nuclear research. If it did so, would anyone in the US government or at the Journal worry, as they do with Iran, that it might secretly develop its own bombs?
We know the reason for the US double-standard between Iran and Saudi Arabia: the grand bargain. The US protects the Arab nations from all enemies, domestic and foreign, stationing military bases in Saudi Arabia and its neighbors and selling them massive amounts of military hardware. In return, they guarantee the flow of oil at a price that is profitable to them, but which does not overly tax the US economy. The oil trade is denominated in dollars, bolstering the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency. The Arabs recycle the dollars acquired into US investments, including its sovereign debt.
Undoubtedly there is sub rosa plank in the grand bargain: the US government and its compliant media outlets, including the Journal, will downplay or ignore Arab depredations. Swept under the rug is the brutality of Sharia-based criminal law, including stoning and beheading; subjugation of women; persecution of homosexuals; widespread discrimination against Shiite minorities; promotion of world-wide terrorism (we still do not have a complete accounting of the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government or its citizens in the 9/11 attack); cronyism and rampant corruption; foreign espionage and skullduggery; glaring inequality of wealth, and lack of opportunity and high unemployment, especially among the region’s young.
Iran will never be a party to such a grand bargain. It is inconceivable that Iran will declare it’s love for the US, even an insincere, Saudi-style love. In 1953, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 organized a coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in retaliation for the nationalization of the British-owned oil industry. Mossaddeq was replaced by exiled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Shah’s repression, especially the brutal internal security service SAVAK, economic and financial policies tilted towards a small elite, and support from the United States fueled popular resentment. He was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. Iranians have forgotten neither the US role in the 1953 coup nor its support of the hated Shah, which makes the continuous US refrain about Iran not being trustworthy almost comical—the mote versus the beam (Matthew 7:3).
Sometimes fights break out because the opponents are so much alike. That fits the present version of the long-running conflict between Persia and Arabia. In championing Saudi Arabia and demonizing Iran, the Journal misses the real prospect that “has to be terrifying” to both nations’ governments. Sooner or later, their peoples will get fed up with the archaic economics, politics, technology, communications, piety, and social interaction to which those reactionary, repressive, fundamentalist governments have consigned them. Both governments are doomed dinosaurs. When Persians and Arabs overthrow their tyrannies, maybe they can instate the freedom that would allow them to regain their historical prominence, realize their considerable potential, and enjoy all the benefits the 21st century has to offer.
THE DURAND FAMILY SAGA AND A PORTRAIT OF AMERICA’S GREATEST ERA—THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION