The US-Saudi Relationship After Khashoggi

The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. This time, too, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

.. But significant damage to bilateral ties, let alone a diplomatic rupture, is not in the cards, even if all the evidence points to a state-sanctioned assassination. Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow the death of one man to affect the relationship. And with new allies working with old lobbyists to stem the damage, it is unlikely that the episode will lead to anything more than a lovers’ quarrel.
.. Saudi Arabia’s special role in American foreign policy is a lesson that US presidents learn only with experience. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, his advisers were bent on distancing the new administration from George H.W. Bush’s policies. Among the changes sought by Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, was an end to the unfettered White House access that Saudi Arabian Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan enjoyed during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Bandar was to be treated like any other ambassador.
.. when Clinton needed a quote from the Koran to go alongside those from the Old and New Testament for a ceremony marking an Israeli-Palestinian accord, he turned to the Saudi ambassador.
.. Before Donald Trump assumed office, he frequently bashed the Saudis and threatened to cease oil purchases from the Kingdom, grouping them with freeloaders who had taken advantage of America. But after the Saudis feted him with sword dances and bestowed on him the highest civilian award when he visited the Kingdom on his first trip abroad as US president, he changed his tune.
.. Even the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, could not damage the relationship. Though al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national, recruited 15 of the 19 hijackers from the Kingdom, senior Saudi officials dismissed the implications. In a November 2002 interview, the Saudi interior minister simply deemed it “impossible,” before attempting to redirect blame by accusing Jews of “exploiting” the attacks and accusing the Israeli intelligence services of having relationships with terrorist organizations.
.. Bandar provided key insights and advice as President George W. Bush planned the 2003 Iraq invasion.

.. But Saudi Arabia wears too many hats for America to abandon it easily. Though the US no longer needs Saudi oil, thanks to its shale reserves,

  • it does need the Kingdom to regulate production and thereby stabilize markets.
  • American defense contractors are dependent on the billions the Kingdom spends on military hardware.
  • Intelligence cooperation is crucial to ferreting out jihadists and thwarting their plots. But, most important,
  • Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab bulwark against Iranian expansionism. The Kingdom has supported proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to contain Iran’s machinations. Any steps to hold the Saudis responsible for Khashoggi’s death would force the US to assume responsibilities it is far more comfortable outsourcing.

.. When the United Kingdom, the region’s colonial master and protector, decided that it could no longer afford such financial burdens, US leaders ruled out taking its place. Policymakers were too focused on Vietnam to contemplate action in another theater. Instead, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conceived a policy whereby Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by unlimited US military hardware, would police the Gulf. While Iran stopped playing its role following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Saudis still do.

.. It is not only defense contractors who are going to bat for the Saudis. Before Khashoggi became Washington’s topic du jour, the Saudis paid about ten lobbying firms no less than $759,000 a month to sing their praises in America’s halls of power.

.. Former Saudi bashers such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confidant Dore Gold now meet with the Kingdom’s officials. Following the 2013 military coup that toppled Egypt’s democratically elected government, Israeli leaders urged US officials to embrace the generals. They are likely to do the same today if US anti-Saudi sentiment imperils their Iran strategy.

.. in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

Climate Change Is Forcing the Insurance Industry to Recalculate

Insurers are at the vanguard of a movement to put a value today on the unpredictable future of a warming planet

When a wildfire engulfed the Canadian oil-sands boomtown of Fort McMurray two years ago, it hit insurance company Aviva PLC out of nowhere.

The British firm had been active in Canada since 1835. Its actuaries long believed wildfire risk to homes in the area was almost nonexistent, it says. Yet flames on the town’s outskirts roared across an area larger than Delaware, forcing 100,000 people to evacuate and leaving insurers with $3 billion in damages to cover.

“That is not a type of loss we have experienced in that part of the world, ever,” says Maurice Tulloch, the Toronto-based chief executive of Aviva’s international insurance division. “The previous models wouldn’t have envisioned it.”

Aviva studied the incident and concluded the wildfire was an example of how the earth’s gradually warming temperature is changing the behavior of natural catastrophes. Aviva increased premiums in Canada as a result.

The price of homes on the U.S.’s eastern seaboard battered by fiercer storms and higher seas is lagging behind those inland. The price of farmland is rising in North America’s once-frigid reaches, partly because of bets it will become more temperate. Investors are turning fresh water into an asset, a wager in part that climate change will make it scarcer.

.. After the Canadian wildfire, Aviva’s changes to its risk models filtered into its home-insurance premiums in Canada, which increased by roughly 6% since 2016, partly because of its research into catastrophe risks.

For most insurers, rates aren’t rising—yet. A flood of capital into the industry from pension and hedge-fund investors, driven by low interest rates, has increased competition and pushed down property-catastrophe reinsurance prices in the past decade.

And property insurance and reinsurance contracts typically last one year, so an insurer can recalibrate yearly as risks change. “Global warming may be occurring. Probably is,” says Warren Buffett, chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which has a major reinsurance business. “But it hasn’t hurt the reinsurance industry. And people are pricing still as if it won’t, on a one-year basis.”

If reinsurance contracts covered 30 years, he says, “I’d be crazy not to” include the risks.

.. Insurers such as Swiss Re Group say hurricanes like Harvey and Florence, which caused widespread flooding, could represent a more common occurrence in the coming decades.

.. The insurance industry has historically changed after big disasters. Natural-catastrophe modeling took off after Hurricane Andrew struck Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, causing an estimated $15.5 billion of insured losses. Thirteen insurance companies were ordered liquidated

.. The climate has grown about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer since the late 19th century. A consensus of scientists puts blame substantially on emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, farms and factories.

.. Munich Re researchers found a significant increase in storms with hailstones larger than a penny in diameter between 1979 and 2016 in central and southern Europe, causing higher losses during that period.

.. A 2015 study from professors at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the warming planet is increasing the chance that a major hurricane could enter the Persian Gulf, home to hundreds of billions of dollars of petroleum equipment and assets.

Such cyclones periodically hit Oman and Yemen but have never been observed in the Persian Gulf, climate researchers say. The researchers found that, with new conditions due to warming, some cyclones could enter the Gulf in the future and could also form in the Gulf itself.

.. A 2013 study in the journal Nature projected average flood losses for the world’s 136 biggest coastal cities could rise from $6 billion a year in 2005 to $52 billion a year by 2050 due to increased population and development. When taking climate change and a sea-level rise into account, flood losses could exceed $1 trillion a year by 2050, the study concluded, unless the cities invested about $50 billion annually in adapting.

.. But Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in August 2017, spent weeks absorbing 33 trillion gallons of water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It dumped more than 60 inches of rain and caused tens of billions of dollars in flood damage.

.. The probability of a Texas storm dropping about 20 inches of rain was about 1% a year between 1981 and 2000, but will likely increase to 18% a year by 2100

.. Increased flood damage also presents an opportunity to insurers. As more regions become exposed to flooding, insurers expect the market for flood insurance to grow.

.. Allianz, one of the world’s largest insurers, says it sold the retail business of U.S. insurer Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. in 2015 in part because climate change is increasing the risk of losses to coastal homes in California and Florida.

Tony Blair Says the Left Has Lost Its Way

Blair, the onetime wunderkind of British politics who led the Labour Party and the country for 10 years from 1997 to 2007 preaching a Clintonian centrism he called the “Third Way” only to see his tenure end amid recriminations over his support for Republican George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, still punches hardest when he’s hitting to his left. In our conversation, he bashed today’s liberal leaders in both countries for “solutions that look back to the ‘60s or ‘70s” and for preaching a form of feel-good “identity politics” that will flop as an answer to Trumpism.

.. “You can go for what are very good-sounding things like, we’re going to abolish tuition fees, or we’re going to give you this for free, or that for free,” he says, calling out both America’s Democrats and Britain’s Labourites. “In today’s world, and in particular, in the absence of a vigorous change-making center, that’s very attractive. But I don’t think it’s answer, and I’m not sure it would win an election. Maybe it would, but even if it did, it would worry me. Because in the end, I think a lot of these solutions aren’t really progressive. And they don’t correspond to what the problem of the modern world is.”

But it’s Blair’s comments about Trump as much as his disdain for Sanders and Corbyn that are likely to infuriate many U.S liberals.

Just a few months ago, Blair stirred outrage when he told his former communications chief Alastair Campbell in a British GQ interview that Democrats “just go mental with you” at even the suggestion of working with Trump and that the divisive U.S. president who has spoken of the mainstream press as “enemies of the people” may have a point about his “polarized and partisan” media coverage.

Blair did not back away from that in our interview, saying it’s a mistake “just to go in flat-out opposition” to Trump, that the president may well end up as a traditional Republican at least on foreign policy and arguing Trump has “actually been helpful” in the Middle East, where Blair has served as a mediator for the quartet of Western powers trying to achieve a long-elusive peace settlement.

.. When we talk, Blair claims to be unfazed by the flap, blaming the fury on “right-wing media in the U.K. that’s controlled” by a bunch of “old men who are in favor of Brexit” and choosing to ignore the fact that the left is none too happy with him either. “Nowadays,” he says, “if you step out at all into any area of public controversy, you’re going to get a bucket of something unpleasant poured over you, so you get used to that.”

.. But it’s almost impossible to overstate the extent to which Blair is excoriated across the British political spectrum these days—“his reputational currency has fallen as his bank account has swelled” over the past decade, says his old colleague Campbell, acknowledging not just Blair’s political unpopularity but the opprobrium he’s gotten for what’s perceived as buck-raking from advising autocrats from the Persian Gulf to Kazakhstan.

Even those who don’t outright condemn Blair see him as a man without a party, tilting at Brexit without being able to propose a realistic scenario by which it could be overturned, given that neither Labour nor the ruling Conservative Party is willing to officially campaign on undoing it. “Brits hate him. They really hate him,” says one American who spent the better part of two decades living in London. “His international stature, even now, masks how low is the esteem in which he is held back home.”

.. Blair has remained well regarded here, and tends to get positive notices from centrist-minded American commentators who see him as a rare liberal willing to take a moment away from Trump-bashing and Brexit-bemoaning to trash the rising populism and “riding the politics of fear,” as he put it to me, that is now increasingly seen as the only acceptable response to angry voting publics in both countries.

.. Blair acknowledges that he and others in the Clintonian middle opened the way for this challenge—they became “complacent” in power, he says, entitled “managers of the status quo”—though as with Clinton there are many critics who feel he is hardly introspective enough about his own role in the current mess.

.. Blair somewhat testily rejected the premise of my question, reminding me that he had one of modern Britain’s longest winning streaks before going on to blame much of his current plight on the political polarization of the British media. “One should never exaggerate this,” he says. “I mean, I did win three elections in the U.K.”

.. there’s no doubt that Blair’s re-emergence as among the most outspoken anti-populist leaders on either side of the Atlantic is a striking contrast to the two American presidents with whom he partnered so closely over his decade as prime minister.