In Frank Herbert’s Dune the reader is told that the “world is supported by four things: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.” He might have added that naught avails a ruler without followers willing to follow.

Today Saudi Arabia rejected a seat on the UN Security Council to which it had been unanimously elected in protest against “its long-time patron United States’ overtures to Iran, among other peeves,” according to the Times of India. The Washington Post comes to more or less the same conclusion.

UNITED NATIONS — Just hours after winning a coveted place on the U.N. Security Council for the first time, Saudi Arabia did a stunning about-face Friday and rejected the seat, denouncing the body for failing to resolve world conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.

The unprecedented move at the United Nations appeared largely directed at Saudi Arabia’s longtime ally, the United States, reflecting more than two years of frustration.

Of course there was always something ironic about elevating Nigeria, Chad, and Saudi Arabia to the pinnacle of the World Body. But if the irony was undoubted, the prestige was not.  A seat on the Security Council was a prize, back when the Security Council meant something.

Saudi Arabia’s reversal surprised U.N. diplomats and officials who had just welcomed the kingdom to a two-year term on the U.N.’s most powerful body for the first time. Several noted that the Saudis were lobbying for support right up until the vote.

Britain, Pakistan and other countries said they wanted explanations, particularly as Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi had told reporters following Thursday’s vote that his government took the election “very seriously” ..

The probable answer to the question of why Saudi Arabia waited till the election was in hand before slighting Obama is obvious but unwelcome. The Saudis wanted a glass of wine poured first so they could fling it in Obama’s face.

As far back as two weeks ago David Weinberg writing in the National Journal saw the Saudi revolt coming when they canceled an opportunity to address the UN General Assembly.

President Obama’s Friday telephone call with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani—the first at such a level in over three decades—has exacerbated existing problems between the United States and its Saudi ally. Now we learn that Saudi Arabia cancelled its address at the United Nations, evidently in protest at recent shifts in U.S. policy.

The Saudi royal family has seen Iran as a threat to their survival ever since 1979, when Iranian leaders began encouraging Shi’ite communities in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province to rebel. Subsequently, the Kingdom has been engaged in a regional battle for influence with Iran, and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq removed a traditional counterweight to Iranian power. Sunni rulers now fear a Shi’ite crescent stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean—and possibly south into the Arab Gulf states.

The Saudis are especially concerned about Obama’s blunders in Syria, which have made it hard for them to win against Assad. Syria might mark a high water mark for the Sunni militancy followed by the implicit prospect of irreversible decline. Ordinarily it would be just another blunder by president Obama; just another crackup in the alliances he has desultorily attempted to form.

But indirect help for Obama may be coming from a wholly unexpected direction. Despite the president’s best efforts to discourage the domestic oil industry, the United States has jumped ahead of Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer on the wings of new technology. And the pace of American production is accelerating. Reuters says that Oklahoma is coming online big-time.

Oklahoma is emerging as the next big shale oil play, with production growing faster than in any other U.S. state apart from Texas and North Dakota.

Thanks in big part to shale, the state’s oil output in May, June and July hit the highest level since January 1990.

Oil output has doubled since the start of 2010, from 160,000 to 320,000 barrels per day, and is showing the sort of exponential growth that characterized other big shale plays.

The relations of power in the world are constantly changing. Good managers know this and are always looking for a wave to catch and ebbs to avoid. Timing in statecraft is very important, but it is something the president seems to lack. What has kept Obama from catastrophe is the unexpected success of everything he discounts, from the tactical skill of the US military to the resilience of all sectors he considers back numbers.  He proceeds instead from a kind of fixed idea.

President Obama’s policies have from the beginning been dogged by a curious kind of obsolescence, as if he were planning the future on the basis of trends which were new fifty years ago. He held up Spain as the model for Green Jobs at a time when that country was already beginning to collapse. He pushed Obamacare with the fervor of a 1950s socialist even as the welfare state model of the EU teetered from demographic rot, held up only by the printing presses of the Federal Reserve.

He became enamored of Muslim Brotherhood only to discover that the populations of the Middle East had passed them by. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, is even now trying to solve the puzzle of peace in the Middle East by brokering an irrelevant agreement between Palestine and Israel, as if the world were back in 1947. And now, after finding the Saudis have left his wagon train, almost while he wasn’t looking, the president has hitched his wagon to Teheran a decade late and a trillion dollars short.

He’s right on schedule to implement Obamacare in about 3 years time, when the website finally comes online, just in time to realize the government can’t afford it, and neither can its members.  He seems to live, not in time nor even in eternity, but in the stagnant pool he imagines is timeless. Perhaps in ten years president Obama’s mind will arrive at the present day and belatedly rediscover the possibilities of his own country, which he had written already off as being in terminal decline. Until then it’s Back Full and Back Emergency.

Obama sold himself to the voters as the candidate of the future. His real talent however, apparently lies in missing every opportunity that history presents. It has been said that “generals always fight the last war, especially if they have won it”. With Obama it’s different. He always fights the last war and can’t even remember who won it, except to remain confirmed in his conviction that the future is some other country’s past.


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