Saudi Arabia

Want to Fight the Terrorist Enemy? Start With Allies Like Saudi Arabia

Squashing terrorism without confronting its Sunni state incubators is like fighting a fire without plugging the gas leak.

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It began, as these things usually do, with a carrot. After President Obama assailed Saudi Arabia for being a "free rider" in an interview with The Atlantic, Prince Turki al Faisal published a rejoinder at Arab News where he trumpeted Saudi-American cooperation. The message was clear: Lay off the criticism and we'll stand by you.

The stick came a month later. Stung by the introduction of a bill in Congress that would open their government to lawsuits from 9/11 victims, the Saudis threatened to divest in $750 billion of U.S. government assets. You expose us and we'll damage your economy. It was a superfluous move—Obama has already vowed to fight the legislation—and, for the typically reserved Saudis, an unusually brusque one. You might even call it geopolitical blackmail, which several of the 9/11 families did.

The Saudi-American friendship has hit a breaking point. That's partially because of the nuclear deal with Iran, which Saudi Arabia views with suspicion. But it's also because American policymakers are waking up to an uncomfortable reality: the conflict with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is, in many ways, a conflict with a network of terror enablers deep inside Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi state was born from a synthesis between the ruling House of Saud and fearsome Wahhabi warriors. The resulting government was predicated on Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam with a Spartan interpretation of Sharia that became codified in Saudi law. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Saudis brandished Wahhabism as a weapon to counter Iran's newly mobilized Shiite fundamentalism. Better to export their extremism to other countries than lose control of it at home.

The Saudis claim they're fighting terrorism, and to an extent they are, executing al Qaeda militants within their borders and sharing intelligence with the United States. But at best, that's like Dr. Frankenstein in bleak pursuit of his monster after it's already gone on a rampage. For decades, Saudi donors fomented Sunni extremism in places like Pakistan, where hundreds of Shias have died in attacks, and Afghanistan, where funding went to Deobandi seminaries that would later influence the Taliban. There's a reason some Shias and other Muslim world minorities use the terms "Wahhabi" and "Sunni extremist" interchangeably. From their perspective, all IED-infested roads lead to Riyadh.

For America, the problem finally exploded on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked by a group of Islamic radicals, more than three quarters of whom were Saudi. The United States collaborated with Iran to defeat the Wahhabi-influenced Taliban in Afghanistan, and the subsequent 9/11 commission report was released with 28 blacked-out pages that its principal author now claims contain information about a major Saudi role. It seemed like the perfect time to confront Saudi Arabia and work to stem one of the world's worst terrorism generators.

Instead, we overthrew Saddam Hussein, who had only the most tenuous connection to al Qaeda, and ripped open a vacuum that would ultimately give birth to the Islamic State. Many of the Sunni extremists who poured across Iraq's borders were, of course, from Saudi Arabia, as well as other Arab powers like Jordan. Of the top five countries currently providing ISIS with recruits, three—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey—are American allies.

Even in Yemen, where the Saudis claim to be fighting terrorism by leading an alliance of mostly Sunni countries against the Houthi rebels, there's something bigger afoot. Why did the Houthis rebel in the first place? In part, because Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen during its 1994 civil war to aid the government, and since then have been blamed for discriminating against the Houthis' native north. The Saudis, once again, are confronting a problem that's partially of their own making.

Saudi Arabia was once a redoubtable opponent of the Soviet Union, and many foreign gurus are still reluctant to break out of that Cold War framework. Typical is the approach taken by Charles Krauthammer, who's written more than one column warning that America needs to constantly "reassure" its Sunni allies. But the world's lone superpower shouldn't placate countries that helped nurture our present enemies simply because they opposed our past enemies. Today, jihadists get more money from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors than anywhere else. That's a problem that can't go unanswered.

Squashing terrorism without confronting its Sunni state incubators is like fighting a fire without plugging the gas leak. That doesn't mean making the Saudis our enemies or launching another ill-considered military intervention, but it does mean pressuring them until they crack down on the jihad donors, rein in the Wahhabis, and reform school curricula that promote hateful nonsense about Jews and Christians.

We should do that no matter how many sticks they send our way. Want to defeat our terrorist enemies? Let's start with our allies.

NEXT: U.N. Drug Policy Meeting's Banal Consensus Masks Encouraging Disagreements

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  1. US is heavily indebted to the Saudis. I wonder if that plays a larger role in the US passiveness regarding the Saudis. Fuck ’em. The Saudis need the US more than the US needs them.

    1. The Saudis are going from riding camels to riding camels in 3 generations. Nothing the US does will change that.

      1. Yeah man, no Shites!!!

        I’ll tell ya another thing, those camel jockeys had damned well better stop sneaking too much of that nuclear-tipped green Wahhabi sauce on my plate at the local all-ye-can-eat Chinese restadant! ENUFF cross-cultural fusion food, I say!

          1. (but seriously, that was funny as shit)

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  2. Who was it who said something about avoiding foreign entanglements? That guy was pretty smart, the U.S. should probably have listened to him.

      1. Minus the comma, I’m not call you Hitler, per se

    1. I don’t know, but he probably owned slaves, so we should disregard anything he ever said.

    2. “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and Independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

      JQA 1822

      1. The rumbling you hear is John Quincy rolling over in his grave…

  3. That doesn’t mean making the Saudis our enemies

    How about frenemies?

    1. That’s basically every Islamic country with whom we have close ties, with the exception of maybe Kuwait.

      1. Frenemies with benefits?

        1. Well, SOMEBODY’S getting fucked.

          1. Also, we need SOME place to try out and debug all of our new war toys!

      2. I’m no expert on US / Indonesia relations but they seem pretty cool with us and have a yuge Muslim population (I think the biggest in the world).

      3. Jordan? We’re still pretty tight, and Jordan’s unusual in being a majority-Muslim Arab nation that isn’t a banana-republic terrorist-breeding shithole. Like, the whole Muslims-are-kinda-uptight thing aside, Jordan’s a pretty good place to live. They’re kind of the outlier for Arab monarchies, it seems.

  4. If there was just one issue where the libertarian point of view should command upwards of 90 percent popular support in any kind of sane reality, it would be the policy of non-interventionism in foreign affairs.

    It’s incredible that vast numbers of the public want to get more involved in “destorying them terrists” in the Middle East when over and over again that’s been shown to be a complete disaster. Why get involved in a fight-to-death between Fundamentalist Asshole Faction A vs. Fundamentalist Asshole Faction B?

    And it’s not as if Americans even claim to understand the finer points of Wahhabism vs. Shia zealotry vs. whatever. This is the same public that routinely confuses Indian Sihks with Islam, and sometimes even thinks Buddhists are some type of Muslims too. Most of these people wouldn’t know a Wahabbi from the Wasabi for their sushi.

    If you walked past a brawl and shootout between a bunch of Hell’s Angels and Nazi skinheads, would you jump in, choose sides, later change sides, etc.? Or would quickly turn back the way you came get the hell away as fast as you can?

    1. Don’t be so ignernt! You mean you’ve never heard of Wahhabi sauce?!?! Just go ask The Google and The Storm Front about this, do some minimal internet research, and this is what you ken larn: Wahhabi sauce is green ‘caz it’s made of Soylent Green. Now Soylent Green? If’n ya watch that them thar movies? Is made of PEOPLE! ? In Saudi Arabia, it’s made of ALL the “heathen types”? Evruh-one except that them thar Wahhabis? An Wahhabi sauce is whut gits ’em all sauced up!!! Yup!!!

    2. If you walked past a brawl and shootout between a bunch of Hell’s Angels and Nazi skinheads, would you jump in, choose sides, later change sides, etc.? Or would quickly turn back the way you came get the hell away as fast as you can?

      Obviously, the US government must take the side of Hell’s Angels, get intelligence on where and when the brawl will occur in advance, position snipers, and pick off the Nazi skinheads.

      Change the names, and that’s pretty much what happened in Waco last year.

      Still that greatly oversimplifies the situation in the Middle East. Wahhabis are no more monolithic than, say, Baptists. Within Wahhabism there are multiple tribes vying for power, and within each tribe there are clans doing the same thing. The same goes for just about every other major Islamic sect. The problem with Islam is that it is a worldly religion; that is, its origins and its texts are all about achieving political objective. That means religious disagreement inevitably leads to political disagreement. Fourteen centuries of the Islamic history demonstrate that violence is the preferred method for resolving political disagreements.

  5. Well, it’s nice that after 15 years the political and media establishment is starting to notice that the Saudis are our enemies. What happened, did they fall behind on bribes?

    1. “after 15 years”

      Ohh, we’ve been in bed with these people and they’ve been against us for much, MUCH longer than that!! Pretty much ever since the Saudis decided to trade in their British allies for American ones.

  6. Maybe the reason Obama is cozying up to Iran is a because he wants to weaken the Saudis. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia suck, but maybe Iran sucks less. Because I don’t really think Obama cares about America’s interests I have my doubt that this is his motivation, but if it were his motivation, he couldn’t exactly be open about it.

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  8. We’ve flat out killed Mideast rulers who were much less execrable than the Saudis, partially under the pretense that it was the right thing to do for the people of their nation. Our support of the Saudis shows that to be the laughable bullshit that it is.

    They, more than anyone else, are responsible for the spread of fundamentalist (Wahabi) Islam and now that their oil isn’t of preeminent importance we should boot them to the curb like the cur dogs that they are.

    1. “They, more than anyone else, are responsible for the spread of fundamentalist (Wahabi) Islam”

      Yeah. I mean, they freaking INVENTED it!! The first Saudi ruler made a pact with the inventor of Wahhabism (who had been driven out of his hometown for being a crazy asshole) to expand and share their powers. Their conquest of Mecca and subsequent destruction of Muslim Holy Sites got the Ottomans to kick their teeth in repeatedly (highlight of the Ottoman-Saudi wars probably being that time the Ottomans forced the captured Saudi Imam to listen to music (which the Wahhabis think is sinful) before executing him as an extra “fuck you”), but with British Allies and the Ottoman Empire on decline the Saudis made a comeback with their crazy extremist views. And because they were skilled at getting Western people to finance them, because oil and “strategic allies”, they’ve expanded and peddled their extreme philosophies ever since.

  9. fearsome Wahhabi warriors

    That stuff in your mouth would put anyone in a fighting mood!

    Oh, and band name.

  10. Sheik Yerbouti!

    ObOzo would rather get oil from Saudi Arabia than our Canadian friends.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiEwBWWQcj8

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  18. I’m offended by this racist post. The Saudi’s are obviously our friends because they buy our military hardware and don’t like the Iranians. The 9/11 report is so last decade, and nothing other than the AMUF should be carried forward (until the end of time) from the horrendous decade.

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  21. RE: Want to Fight the Terrorist Enemy? Start With Allies Like Saudi Arabia

    Now, now.
    Just because SA still stones women to death, treats them worse than their camels and has a king doesn’t mean we should laugh at them or shake our heads.
    Actually, on second thought, it does.

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