Why I like this post from Matt Stoller on Saudi sponsorship of ISIS a lot
(Here.) First, we agree -- confirmation bias alert -- on the nature of the state:
The Saudi state, like all states, isn’t a coherent whole, but a set* of elites that interact with each other. There are thousands of ‘princes’ who basically just get oil income, but any of them can act independently and many of them do.
I've written, and I grant at more length with less focus:
I think it makes more sense to think of individuals in the ownership classes maintaining portfolios of options, and exercising options when the right opportunity occurs. Since all money flows through capital they own, and/or through institutions they control, they don't make much of a distinction between the "political" and the "economy" part of "political economy." (Different aspects, the political, and the economic will be emphasized as money sloshes about, and I bet we could track that emphasis by following Flexians as they morph from "public servants" into "the dreaded private sector.") For example, we might imagine a squillionaire with a portfolio of options in "conflict investment." Which war around the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Basin got going wouldn't matter very much to this squillionaire, because at some point the war money will flow through capital he (it would be a he) controls, whether arms dealing, or mercenaries, or intelligence, or whatever. And we might imagine each option as being a step in a play in a larger playbook, with each step forwarding the ulimate objective of the play (moar money. In other words, the reason all the events in the Middle East seem familiar is that they are familiar.)
Now, if we take the idea of the ruling class owning portfolios of options where playbooks take advantage of opportunities, we can see at once that there is the possibly of factional infighting in the ruling class. Not only will they have taken different positions, they also have different playbooks (and by playbooks I mean something a lot sloppier than NFL playbooks; something more like the sheets of paper drunken frat boys pass around on "How to get girls." These guys are probably also unwilling to talk to researchers because their reasoning process is unbelievably squalid and stupid.)
So, if we have factional infighting in the ruling class, that means that a "pillars of the regime" strategy has a better chance of success, if the right wedges are positioned at the right cracks.
Yay. More from Stoller:
Ally and enemy in post-colonial lands is often a meaningless term —it’s better to describe interests.
A truism but nonetheless true, and how nice not to see cheerleading. One can applaud the elegance of Putin's moves without, for example, wishing he were President of this country; many just don't get this distinction (One also wonders if the vast swathes of the flyover states from which the capitalists have withdrawn investment could be characterized as "post-colonial.")
More from Stoller:
In other words, the Saudi ambassador, who may have funneled money to 9/11 hijackers, also advised the Bush administration on U.S. foreign policy, and had deep and profitable relationships with U.S. media, banking, and political elites. He was also a social luminary in DC. This helped lay the foundation for the American foreign policy establishment consensus position, often forged at think tanks funded by foreign governments. From there, this consensus emanated outward into Politico-like publications, and then outward onto the television networks and into the homes of the remaining Americans will to pay attention to an infantilized deceptive version of American foreign policy.
I like the way this paragraph, and the entire post, operate at a level of abstraction that enables us to see power relations and interests clearly, while avoiding the hairballs of CT.
It's said that good management involves making strategic decisions under uncertainty. I would argue that good politics requires the same. There are things we will never be 100% sure about, from (AFAIK) who blew up the battleship Maine, through who funded Gavrilo Princip, through who shot JFK, through the story of Flight 800, through 9/11. Through, perhaps, MH370 and MH17.
The question should be, not whether we know everything, but do we know enough. (Herbert Simon calls this satisficing.) Can we know enough to make decisions that match our values and interests? If yes, then we need not know more, and the opportunity cost of drilling down into infinite detail is high; we know more about less. That's not a recipe for success for a poorly resourced political tendency.
We don't have to prove, in John LeCarré's words, that Christ was born on Christmas Day. (Readers may now understand my antipathy to so much of the truther material.)
[E]xplicit government censorship combined with propaganda helped prevent the public from having a full discussion of what 9/11 meant, and what this event implied for our government’s policies. Explicit censorship, under the guise of national security, continues today. While there are people in the U.S. government who know which Saudis financed and organized 9/11, the public at large does not. No government official can say ‘this person funded Al Qaeda in 2001, he might be funding ISIS now’, because that would reveal classified information. He or she can’t even say that to the wrong Congressman or bureaucrat that has classified clearance, because that could annoy his or her superior and cause him to lose his job. Being thrown out of the national security state,** a state of 5 million people with special clearances, is painful and can, as Edward Snowden recognized, lead to banishment or lifelong imprisonment.
So the demand should be "Open the books!" That's very different from a presenting, well, a "theory."
NOTE * On set, see "set membership functions" here. And in general, with the Old Mole, for "set" read "class."
NOTE ** Stoller also avoids the ahistorical, disempowering, and superficially profound "deep state," which is herpetic in its virtulence, spread, and effect.