THE CUNNING PRINCE ABDULLAH….In the recent quasi-elections in Saudi Arabia, radical Islamists rather unsurprisingly won a number of key victories. Matt Yglesias provides the following analysis of Crown Prince Abdullah’s strategy in calling these elections:

To make a long story short, Abdullah did everything possible to ensure that Islamists would win the election. He also managed to ensure that no matter what the result, he wouldn’t lose any real power. Upshot ? articles in the western press calling him “reform-minded” and that build the case for him not to engage in further democratization since, as we just saw, Abdullah’s earnest efforts at reform are counterproductive since they just bring Islamists to power. It’s everything an absolute monarch could dream of in an election. He keeps absolute power, gets credit for being a reformer, and gets off the hook in terms of pressure to reform. Meanwhile the American media will continue to assist the House of Saud in its campaign to get al-Jazeera of the air so that it can be 100 percent insulated from criticism in the Arab media, too. Abdullah is a very clever man.

As it turns out, very few people are actually as Machiavellian as their critics suppose they are. In this case, though, I find Matt’s Machiavellian interpretation of Abdullah’s machinations disturbingly plausible ? even though, unlike Matt, I’m stone sober at the moment.

Comments welcome, of course.