Bombs, Babes and Baksheesh: Civilization in Action

If you want to know how the world works – how the free, enlightened, civilized West works – look no further than the deal announced yesterday between Her Majesty's Government of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There you will find the essence of our time in a nutshell (or perhaps a missile casing): bribes, bombs, babes, blackmail, terrorism, tyranny, secrecy and repression – all wrapped up with a shiny official ribbon and foisted on the public without a by-your-leave.

We reported here a few months ago how Britain's now-discarded leader, the exceedingly saintly Christian gentleman, Tony Blair, deep-sixed a two year investigation by his own Serious Fraud Office into the swamp of corruption oozing from a massive arms deal between the Saudis, the British government and its favorite master of war, BAE Systems (a multinational arms merchant that is also one of the top war profiteers in the United States). BAE had kicked back a billion dollars into the accounts of Saudi Prince Bandar (also known as "Bandar Bush" for his intimate ties with America's ruling family), and spread the grease around to a number of Saudi royals – including cash, cars and coquettes for hire – to keep them sweet in the long-running fighter-plane deal (£21 billion and counting) that stretches back to the Thatcher years.

For the past couple of years, BAE and its Downing Street subsidiary have been trying to extend the arms deal with a new batch of 72 Typhoon fighters. The base price of the new extension is £4.4 billion, but the true value is much higher, as the published figure doesn't include spare parts, maintenance and training, the Guardian reports. But the SFO's probe into Saudi-BAE sleaze didn't sit very well with the Keepers of the Two Holy Mosques, who objected to seeing the stains on their fine rainment exposed to the generality – and even more to the possibility of having to return the baksheesh that BAE had ladled out.

As the deadline loomed for finalizing the new arms deal, Dick Cheney took a hand in the game. (Where there's grease, there's Cheney, slithering from throne room to boardroom on a slimy trail of oil.) Cheney, meeting with the Saudi royals in hopes of getting them to lean on their Sunni proteges in Iraq, reportedly agreed to add his considerable weight to the Saudis' protestations to Blair over the SFO investigation. For their part, the most holy rulers of the one of the world's most ruthless totalitarian states decided to up the ante by threatening to cut off all cooperation with the UK on terrorism issues, especially the sharing of intelligence on the Islamic extremists who rise up with such marvelous fecundity from the Saudi sands. The proposition from Riyadh was brutally simple : kill the SFO probe, or risk having your people killed by our homegrown zealots while we turn a blind eye.

At least that's the excuse that Blair put about after he preemptorily ordered the investigation to be shut down – just at the moment when the SFO had penetrated the holy of holies: BAE's secret Swiss bank accounts. It is more likely that he simply seized upon the threat – if it was indeed made – in order to do what he wanted to do all along: let BAE, his much-coddled contractor, bring home the Saudi boodle no matter what. But it is remarkable that the British government was perfectly willing to paint its "important strategic ally" as a common street thug in order to cover up its own craven acquiescence to miltary-corporate greed.

At any rate, the probe was duly killed, the Saudi blackmail, real or alleged, was forgotten, and the whole unpleasantness was swept under a decorous rug, out of sight and out of mind until yesterday, when the done deal was announced. In keeping with the bitterly black humor that has attended the 20-year boondoggle all along – it was originally dubbed "al Yammanah," Arabic for "the Dove" – the new contract for 72 advanced killing machines is being called "Salam." Yes, that's right: the Arabic word for "Peace."

As we noted here in the earlier piece on Bandar Bush:

When questioned by the Guardian about the payments, BAE's defense was bold -- and probably accurate: "We have little doubt that among the reasons the attorney general considered the case was doomed was the fact that we acted in accordance with ... the relevant contracts, with the approval of the government of Saudi Arabia, together with, where relevant, that of the UK [Ministry of Defence]." Goldsmith's office offered a similar assertion: "There were major legal difficulties [with the SFO investigation]  given BAE's claim that the payments were made in accordance with the agreed contractual arrangements."

In other words, the bribes to Saudi royals were probably built into the contract from the beginning, in secret codicils that would have required the approval of UK government official for two decades, encompassing the years of Thatcher, John Major (who served as head of Carlyle's European operations from 2001 to 2004) and Tony Blair. Thus, even though such payments are illegal under UK law -- and have been outlawed in the United States since 1977, as the Guardian notes -- BAE can ultimately point to government sanction for its the all-absolving name of "national security," of course.

In a real sense, however, this story is not even news: "Bush Crony Takes Bribes in Oil and Weapons Deal." What's so unusual about that? It is, in fact, the way the world is run, and has been run since time immemorial. The elite insiders grease each other up like swingers at an orgy, wriggling and wallowing in the blood that lubricates their fortunes. Then they step out into the light of day -- in thousand-dollar suits, in princely robes -- and mouth pieties for the rubes and suckers they despise. The conclusion of the December piece on the BAE bagmen still applies:

Lord knows – and Lords know – that unseemly accommodations sometimes have to be made in this world, especially in geopolitics. A wink here, a little baksheesh there between unsavoury  characters are often better than, say, launching a war of aggression and murdering more than half a million innocent people to achieve your political and commercial ends. But in the BAE case, as in so much else in politics, it is the hypocrisy that rankles most. Western governments obviously believe they must give guns and bribes to extremist tyrants in order to obtain the oil that keeps their own nations in such disproportionate clover – but they lack the guts to say so in plain language, dressing up this ugly business with meaningless trumpery about freedom, peace and security.

Are they trying to mask their own cynicism – or protect the tender sensibilities of their electorates, who might prefer sugared lies to acknowledgements of the dirty deals that undergird their way of life?