We’ve (US government and businesses) not really been good in the sense of being principled with regards to our relations with kings, dictators and tyrants in my opinion. What we have long been is practical. That is to say that stability is good for us so we have tolerated and supported anyone who kept a country stable – at least outwardly. Maintaining any sort of stability in a totalitarian society requires a lot of energy. And it requires keeping opponents from getting organized. So the stability is more in appearance than in actuality. What has happened is that communication has gotten less centralized and so harder to infiltrate and control. Instability has followed.
I think the reason the religious was involved in some of the early revolts, Iran kicking out the Shah for example, is that the only organization was the religious organization. These days communication and organization is more widespread and driven more by economic than religious or purely political reasons. My hope, and to some extent my belief, is that once tasting popular control people in many of these countries will be unwilling to surrender it to new tyrants. This seems especially likely in Tunisia. How stable Egypt becomes depends on the army keeping the elections clean and fair.
People are worried about Saudi Arabia and I think they should be. The royal family has the support of the Bedouin and their own favorites but not of the small middle and upper classes. The old trading families, who we hear very little about but some of whose children I have had as students, are also fans of stability and they will support the royals only as long as that stability is maintained. The king there has opened his check book and that may keep the peace for a while. How long is any ones guess.
I’m not seeing anyone in the US government making friends with the people who will likely take over in the event the royals get tossed out. In my opinion that would more likely be the wealthy trading families who would be more likely to support a democratic meritocracy than the religious radicals there. That good be good for the US and the business of those families is business and they have more in common with the US than not.
The key will be who the masses support if they no longer support the royals. Complex situation. And it could go either way. The edge I give to the trading families is that they know their resource is the minds of their people and they are educated as well as money can buy.
Oil prices are as stable as the political landscape so we are going to see some uncertainty for a while. When it gets stable it will stabilize lower than it currently is but probably not back to anything like a historic low. This is the message the Republican right does not seem to want to recognize. I am not global warming nut but even I can see that relying on overseas oil, or oil in general, is not sustainable. China sees it and they are doing more than we are about it. We are falling behind. Will this current situation teach us anything? I have my doubts.