Friday, December 15, 2006

Our Friends in the Middle East

After the confirmation that the enquiry into the corruption at the heart of the Saudi arms deal, Blair had this to say:

"Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East, in terms of helping in respect of Israel and Palestine. That strategic interest comes first."

Yes, our relationship with the Saudis is far too important to be compromised by some trivial corruption investigation. So what about our friends the Saudis? Well, the 2005 Human Rights Watch report had this to say:

Saudi law does not protect many basic rights. The government does not allow political parties, and places strict limits on freedom of expression. Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and lack of official accountability remain serious concerns. The kingdom carried out some seventy-three executions as of late September 2005, more than double the thirty-two executions in the whole of 2004. Saudi women continue to face serious obstacles to their participation in the economy, politics, media, and society. Many foreign workers face exploitative working conditions; migrant women working as domestics often are subjected to round-the-clock confinement by their employers, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse and other mistreatment. The government continued to harass independent Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and stifle their efforts to establish independent rights monitoring groups.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that when an ally indulges in torture, it is acceptable. And yet, when it is someone who steps out of line, they need to be dealt with. This is typical behaviour of a franchise state like Saudi Arabia. The franchisors (the US/UK governments) are not too concerned with how the franchisee runs their outlet, as long as it keeps delivering the goods. When the franchisee fails to deliver, the problems begin and the franchisors begin looking for new tenants to manage their outlet. This is the context in which we must see western hegemony.

It is hardly surprising that when the most powerful man in the world is a dyed in the wool capitalist, that world politics should reflect the actions of those in big business. We are living in a corporate world in more senses than one. Throughout the twentieth century, politicians have cast an envious eye at the activities of leaders in the corporate sector. The efficiency, the elimination of dissent through erosion of unionisation, the money, the power. The corporate world has made ever greater inroads into political life. Lobby groups representing the interests of big business effectively write government policy. This has ultimately led to the creation of a world order dominated by franchises. To help me explain, I will use the definition of a franchise provided on Wikipedia:

Franchising is a method of doing business wherein a franchisor licenses trademarks and tried and proven methods of doing business to a franchisee in exchange for a recurring payment, and usually a percentage piece of gross sales or gross profits as well as the annual fees. Various tangibles and intangibles such as national or international advertising, training, and other support services are commonly made available by the franchisor, and may indeed be required by the franchisor, which generally requires audited books, and may subject the franchisee or the outlet to periodic and surprise spot checks. Failure of such tests typically involve non-renewal or cancellation of franchise rights.

Much like a franchisee would conduct spot checks, intelligence services in the West will also conduct 'spot checks' to ensure everything is in order and that the franchisee can 'renew' their 'rights'. Of course, this is where states like Iraq have failed. They just didn't fulfill the requirements of their regular spot checks. When Saddam was following the model of the west, he was given his 'franchise rights'. As soon as he strayed from this model, these 'rights' were taken away from him. Staying with Wikipedia, it is interesting to note how the entry on franchising describes the advantages and disadvantages of the practice. According to the entry, the advantages are that:

...franchising offers franchisees the advantage of starting up a new business quickly based on a proven trademark and formula of doing business [the capitalist system], as opposed to having to build a new business and brand from scratch (often in the face of aggressive competition from franchise operators [competing ideologies]). A well run franchise would offer a turnkey business: from site selection to lease negotiation, training, mentoring and ongoing support as well as statutory requirements and troubleshooting.

The parallels to the current situation across the globe is glaringly obvious. Our 'proven formula' is exported providing our 'outlets' the ability to build quickly despite the efforts of the 'competitors'. As far as the West are concerned, a well run franchise would indeed prove profitable.

Even more revealing are the disadvantages of being a franchisee:

For franchisees, the main disadvantage of franchising is a loss of control. While they gain the use of a system, trademarks, assistance, training, and marketing, the franchisee is required to follow the system and get approval for changes from the franchisor. For these reasons, franchisees and entrepreneurs are very different.

It can be expensive. Because of standards set by the franchiser, the franchisee often has no choice as to signage, shop fitting, uniforms etc. and may not be allowed to source less expensive alternatives. Added to that is the franchise fee and ongoing royalties and advertising contributions. The franchisee may also be contractually bound to spend money on upgrading or alterations as demanded by the franchiser from time to time.

The franchisee has given up the rights to control important aspects of the business. It is literally powerless to make independent decisions. All major decisions must be referred to the franchisor who ultimately decides what action to take. This is key to strategy of the Western powers. Give their 'outlets' the appearance of a certain amount of independence, whilst behind the scenes they pull all the strings. This is effectively the model that the US and UK governments have been pursuing. Once a franchisee steps outside the boundaries of the franchise, they become a 'rogue state' and forfeit any rights they might previously have enjoyed.

This is the fundamental reason why Blair has called off this enquiry. On a basic level, it is about money, corruption and jobs. The reality is that it is all about protecting a franchisee who has fulfilled the terms of their franchise and is continuing to produce desirable results. Until Saudi Arabia fails to fulfill the terms of the franchise, it will continue to receive the full support of the US and UK governments.