Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saudi Arabia is a not great American ally; it is a liability

    April 24, 2016   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

At the same time President Obama was meeting with the rulers of the GCC member states, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Michael Pregent arguing that “Saudi Arabia is a great American ally.” Responding to the increased number of critics of Saudi Arabia, the author ignored all the facts and relied instead on two logically flawed arguments: (1) Iran is worse than Saudi Arabia, and, (2) Saudi Arabia has long been at war with al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, too, used these two specious arguments to cajole its Western economic partners into ignoring its appalling human rights record, its role in the perversion of Islam, its bulling of poor Arab and Muslim countries, and its support for brutal authoritarian regimes in Islamic societies.

Great allies are not default allies. Yet, that is exactly the author’s argument: Saudi Arabia is great ally because Iran will make a very bad one, as if Iran and the U.S. are actually wanting to be allies. Given the U.S.’s publicly stated commitment to human rights norms, representative governance, and rule of law, it is in the interest of the American people and their administrations to distance themselves from all regimes that do not share a commitment to these principles.

The author repeated Saudi Arabia’s claim that it has its own war on “al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates” and therefore, it is a reliable ally. All evidence point to the fact that Saudi Arabia has used al-Qaeda and its derivatives as strategic tools abroad. The Saudi rulers had targeted al-Qaeda members only when they threatened the rulers' hold on power at home. The origins and ideology of al-Qaeda and its derivatives also show the undeniable connection to Saudi Arabia.

1. al-Qaeda (and its derivatives) is exclusively a Saudi brainchild. Ideologically, members of al-Qaeda, ISIL, al-Nusra, and Jaish al-Islam follow Wahhabism. Wahhabism, the radicalized, politicized, and now weaponized version of previously docile Salafism, is exclusively a Saudi creation. With that being that case, not just fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 attackers were Saudi, all nineteen attackers, and their spiritual leader--Bin Laden, were Wahhabi Salafists with roots in Saudi Arabia. If if we were to give the Saudi rulers the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are, now, fighting al-Qaeda, one would still think that they must. After all, they are responsible for al-Qaeda's existence in the first place.

2. Saudi Arabia’s anti-terror laws are not enacted to combat Wahhabi terrorism. They are often used to persecute and prosecute human rights activists, bloggers, and anyone who criticizes the rulers of GCC member states. Raif Badai is not a terrorist. Yet he was sentenced to a 10 year prison term and 1000 public lashes. Former al-Qaeda members are sent to rehabilitation centers, instead.

3. The strange military coalitions the King's son, the inexperienced deputy Crown Prince, and head of the Defense Forces, Mohammed Ibn Slaman, announced thus far are meant to provide the regime with a “Sunni” cover to confront Iran and other governments that resist or oppose Saudi influence. The coalition of ten states provided cover for the Saudi regime to launch its brutal war on Yemen, killing thousands of civilians thus far, as documented by NGOs. Similarly, the announced 34 nation Sunni military coalition is clearly made to confront the Iranian presence in Syria and Iraq not to fight al-Qaeda and its derivatives. When the U.S. anti-ISIL coalition denied them ground presence in those countries, the coalition showed off Saudi military hardware instead during war games. The Saudis have never been serious about confronting al-Qaeda and all evidence points the fact that the rulers are in fact using these Wahhabi fighters as Special Forces outside the kingdom’s borders.

3.1. Before the start of the Saudi war on Yemen, al-Qaeda fighters there were under pressure from U.S. drones attacks. ISIL’s leaders complained that the group’s supporters in Yemen failed to establish a foothold for the “caliphate” in that country. Now, both ISIL and al-Qaeda fighters control numerous towns and provinces from which the Yemeni military and Houthi fighters retreated due to heavy Saudi bombardment. Many of the neighborhoods in Aden, supposedly the temporary seat of the pro-Saudi Yemeni government (led by Hadi), are now controlled by al-Qaeda and its derivatives.

3.2. In Syria and Iraq, the Saudi government did not take a significant part in the military operations targeting ISIL, al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda derivatives. In fact, the Saudis facilitated the transfer of fighters who belonged to UN designated terror organizations to other equaled violent, genocidal groups like Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham and supplied them with more weapons.

3.3. The Saudi rulers, like the AKP leaders in Turkey, continue to insist that, as long as Shia or pro-Shia governments are in power in Iraq and Syria, they will continue to tolerate al-Qaeda and its derivatives and use them as foot soldiers to change those regimes. The Saudi and Qatari intervention in Libya, which is now a failed stated governed by at least three different "governments", ought to caution all those who want to do the same in Syria.

4. The rulers of Saudi Arabia are overstating the Iranian threat for a number of reasons. First, as adherents to puritan Wahhabism which sees Shia as a deviant sect, the mere existence of a Shia Iran is unacceptable—regardless of Iran being an actual threat or not. Second, the Saudi Arabian rulers want to mask their own problems by overstating imagined outside threats--Iran or some other invented one. In reality, it is Saudi Arabia that is meddling in the affairs of other countries.

It is Saudi Arabia that is now bombing Yemen. It is Saudi Arabia that is offering protection to Ben Ali who is wanted in Tunisia for killing protesters and corruption charges. It is Saudi Arabia that had sent its military to crush a peaceful protest movement in Bahrain. It is Saudi Arabia that is arming rebels in Syria. It is Saudi Arabia that stood by Mubarak when his regime attempted to put down the rebellion. It is Saudi Arabia that bough influence by paying off politicians in Malaysia. It is Saudi Arabia that first donated to Lebanon $4 billion to upgrade that country’s military to combat the Wahhabi threat then ungifted it when the Lebanese foreign minister refused to support Saudi-drafted resolutions in the Arab League. It is Saudi Arabia that is punishing Algeria for opposing its hegemony on the Arab League. It is in Saudi Arabia where nearly 4000 pilgrims from all over the world died due the rulers negligence without an apology and compensation for the victims. It is Saudi Arabia that has built madrasas and centers that spread perverted interpretation of Islam disguised as Sunni Islam all over the world. Add to this partial list, the Saudi government's role in funding some of 9/11 attackers that might be revealed once the classified 28 pages report are made available would leave no doubt that the Saudi rulers are not just a bad ally, they are a threat to U.S. (and (world) security.

5. The Saudi rulers have used their oil-generated wealth to influence, bride, and blackmail governments and individuals around the world. The reported threat that the kingdom would pull out $750 billion off the U.S. economy is evidence of their strategy for remaining in power at home and relevant around the world. Blackmail is not the behavior of a great ally.

U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is a heavy burden. As that region transitions towards representative governance, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, its support for dictators like Ben Ali, Mubarak, al-Sisi, Umar al-Bashir and other authoritarian leaders, and its export of the perverted Wahhabi interpretation of Islam will necessarily force Western governments to choose between the peoples of the region or continue their support for unelected rulers. An alliance that does not take into consideration the interests of peoples is an alliance of convenience that cannot stand the test of time. U.S.-Saudi Alliance is such alliance; it has outlived its utility.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


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