Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Saudi Arabia Steps Forth

Today I offer some news analysis about recent events in Saudi Arabia. Columns by David Goldman and Caroline Glick offer some good perspective on the events. For the record I also read Thomas Friedman’s analysis this morning in the New York Times … and I found yet another reason to stick to my policy: the only Friedman I read is George.

Today's observations and remarks work well as additions to the analysis I offered yesterday. I am happy to see that we are all on the same page about this. The new commentaries flesh out some of my ideas.

First, we all know that Saudi Arabians have been leading state sponsors of Islamist terrorism. Caroline Glick explained:

For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad. Its Wahhabist Islamic establishment funded radical mosques throughout the world. Saudi princes have supported radical Islamic clerics who have indoctrinated their followers to pursue jihad against the non-Islamic world. Saudi money stands behind most of the radical Islamic groups in the non-Islamic world that have in turn financed terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaida and have insulated radical Islam from scrutiny by Western governments and academics. Indeed, Saudi money stands behind the silence of critics of jihadist Islam in universities throughout the Western world.

Much of the funding was not coming from the government, but from renegade princes. Perhaps this will make us less sympathetic to the princes who are sleeping on mattresses of the ballroom of the  Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.

Goldman recounts the views of a Chinese official who had been trying to persuade the Saudis to stop funding Islamists in the Xinjiang province:

A senior Chinese official complained that the Saudi royal family funds every radical madrassa in Xinjiang province, where Muslim Uyghurs of Turkish ethnicity form the majority. With a long and porous border stretching through sparsely-populated lands, Chinese security couldn’t prevent the funds from pouring in.

I asked our Chinese hosts why they didn’t remonstrate with the Saudi government. The Chinese official said, “We talk to the Saudis all the time, and they say they will have nothing to do with it. But this is not a government. It is a family! Some crazy cousin is always sending money to terrorists through informal finance channels.”

How did the world see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s roundup of corrupt officials and businessmen?

Goldman reports that China was pleased:

China Daily hailed the Crown Prince’s action as a modernizing anti-corruption campaign. “The wave of arrests, the first of its kind, paves the way for a new Saudi Arabia with an intolerant approach against corruption. It also gets ready for the country [to move] towards a post-oil era with the focus on economic reforms and diversity, and major business projects,” the Chinese government newspaper wrote Nov. 5.

He adds that Russia was also pleased:

Russia’s Novosti News Service characterized Mohammed bin Salman’s purge in nearly identical language: “As for the detention of a number of ministers and large businessmen in Saudi Arabia, then, according to the expert, on the contrary, one should expect an improvement in the economic situation in the kingdom and a reduction in the budget deficit. ‘The return of the huge capitals exported by these people abroad may help reduce the budget deficit and enable the implementation of new projects proposed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,’ [Lebanese expert Marwan] Iskander said in an interview with RIA Novosti.”

And yet, the person most directly involved diplomatically with Saudi Arabia was none other than Jared Kushner:

The foundations for the creation of a functioning Saudi state were laid well before President Trump visited Riyadh last March. The Washington Post reported at the time: “Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as ‘MBS,’ sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower. After years of disillusionment with the Obama administration, the Saudi leadership was eager to do business. ‘They were willing to make a bet on Trump and on America,’ a senior White House official said.”

As you know, the Sunni anti-terror alliance is aiming to undermine Iranian influence:

From the viewpoint of Washington, Beijing, Moscow, and Jerusalem, this is win-win-win-win. The odd man out is Iran, whose attempts to project power from Tehran to the Mediterranean have become an annoyance even for its allies. The shape of the deal emerging in the Middle East was visible last summer. As I wrote on July 17, the US and Russia both need to leash their dogs – the former to crack down on Saudi financing of Sunni jihadists and the latter to puncture Iran’s dream of a Shi’a empire.

The missing ingredient in the mix was a Saudi leader with the courage to face down his own family as well as the country’s religious establishment. It is not clear yet that Prince Mohammed bin Salman will succeed, but if he does, he will be the most popular world leader of 2017.

For her part, Caroline Glick reminds us that the Obama administration leaned away from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel and toward Iran. In particular, the Obama foreign policy team sided with the terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood:

The US position on Saudi Arabia cooled demonstrably during the Obama administration. This cooling was not due to a newfound concern over Saudi financial support for radical Islam in the US. To the contrary, the Obama administration was friendlier to Islamists than any previous administration. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in key positions in the federal government. For instance, in 2010, then secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Board. Elibiary had a long, open record of support both for the Muslim Brotherhood and for the Iranian regime. In his position he was instrumental in purging discussion of Islam and Jihad from instruction materials used by the US military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Obama administration’s cold relations with the Saudi regime owed to its pronounced desire to ditch the US’s traditional alliance with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the US’s other traditional Sunni allies in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.

During the same period, the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ties to the Iranian regime became increasingly obvious. Among other indicators, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi hosted Iranian leaders in Cairo and was poised to renew Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Iran before he was overthrown by the military in July 2013. Morsi permitted Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades.

Saudi Arabia joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2014.

Importantly, the Saudi attitude toward Israel has been changing significantly. We have reported on it previously. Glick explains:

It was also during this period that the Saudis began warming their attitude toward Israel. Through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading role in opposing Iran’s nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East, the Saudis began changing their positions on Israel.

Netanyahu’s long-time foreign policy adviser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dr. Dore Gold, who authored the 2003 bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorismwhich exposed Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting jihadist Islam, spearheaded a process of developing Israel’s security and diplomatic ties with Riyadh. Those ties, which are based on shared opposition to Iran’s regional empowerment, led to the surprising emergence of a working alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE with Israel during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Glick sees close coordination between the Trump administration and MBS. She is especially struck by the fact that the Trump administration has just released documents the Obama administration obtained in its raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Why would the Obama administration have kept these secret? Easy, they showed the extent of collaboration between Iran and al Qaeda. Given that Obama wanted to empower Iran, such information would have been embarrassing.

In Glick’s words:

There can be little doubt that there was coordination between the Saudi regime and the Trump administration regarding Saturday’s actions. The timing of the administration’s release last week of most of the files US special forces seized during their 2011 raid of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was likely not a coincidence.

The files, which the Obama administration refused to release, make clear that Obama’s two chief pretensions – that al-Qaida was a spent force by the time US forces killed bin Laden, and that Iran was interested in moderating its behavior were both untrue. The documents showed that al-Qaida’s operations remained a significant worldwide threat to US interests….

And perhaps more significantly, they showed that Iran was al-Qaida’s chief state sponsor. Much of al-Qaida’s leadership, including bin Laden’s sons, operated from Iran. The notion – touted by Obama and his administration – that Shi’ite Iranians and Sunni terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups were incapable of cooperating was demonstrated to be an utter fiction by the documents.


Ares Olympus said...

I see Wikipedia has started an article on the crackdown. Crown Prince Mohammed's message is certainly encouraging, whether the process of the crack down is about identifying scapegoats or enabling justice or a little of both, we'll have to see.
On 24 October 2017 Crown Prince Mohammed who ordered the arrests, told investors in Riyadh that “We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world”. He also pledged to counter "extremism very soon".

whitney said...

This all seems positive and also thanks for mentioning George Friedman. I've never heard of him before but he's definitely worth reading.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

For the record, Friedman's website is Geopolitical Futures. He is always sensible and informative.