Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Unwise Alliance

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, January 5, 2016 --  

Diverging interests between America and Saudi Arabia are straining an already questionable relationship.

Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric and dissident has sparked yet another flareup of conflict in the Middle East. Angry protesters, undoubtedly with the sympathy if not backing of Iranian security forces, stormed the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran over the weekend. This led the Saudis to break off relations with Iran, with its allies Bahrain and Sudan following its lead.

As Western nations try to cobble together a fragile coalition of Middle Eastern allies to put down the Islamic State, this distraction is highly unwelcome. Saudi Arabia has not committed any military firepower to fight the Islamic State, instead focussing its energy on a proxy war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It has distracted other Gulf states and Egypt to join it in this adventure on the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, leaving the problem of the Islamic State on its northern border to fester.

Simply put, Saudi Arabia is a big problem. And this is hardly a new phenomenon. Remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked America on September 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals. This is a by-product of the extremist hate-filled variant of Islam called Wahhabism that is backed by the state. The trillions of oil dollars that have followed into the kingdom over the last century have partly been directed to promulgate this backward variant of Islam around the world by building mosques and schools in foreign countries. This has perverted the modern practice of Islam and fueled the growth of Islamic extremism in modern times.

And the problem isn't just the actions of the Saudi state -- it's the even worse actions of the nation's wealthy elite that the government seems either unable or unwilling to reign in. These people use oil wealth to fund not just hate-filled Wahhabi mosques and schools, but to arm and attack its opponents around the world. Osama bin Laden was the most infamous of these wealthy nationals. But the bin Laden family is not alone in its support for islamic militants. Other families act as supporters of the Islamic State, which practices only a slightly more radical and militant branch of the state ideology of Saudi Arabia.

Many Western analysts noted the Saudi problem in the fall of 2001. This was the logical time to deal with a kingdom converted in the 20th century by immense oil wealth from nomadic tribes to culturally-backward financiers of hate. But it didn't happen. Instead of invading Saudi Arabia, the Bush Administration, led by an American oil family with long ties to the kingdom's rulers, inexplicably invaded secular Iraq.

How different of a place would the world be today if American bombs had fallen on Riyadh and not Baghdad? Clearly, an invasion of Saudi Arabia would have been every bit as messy as what happened in Iraq. It would have inspired an insurgency against the "Crusader" armies, and inspired youth to join Islamist movements to fight the infidel occupation of Islam's birthplace.

America would have had a difficult time imposing any change on the practicing and promulgation of Wahhabism. If could stop state financial support of radical clerics and overseas mosques and schools. But it would have a much harder time stopping the nation's wealthy oil sheiks from doing the same with their private money.

But even with these problems, limited changes that could have been imposed might have been enough to change poisonous status quo for something slightly less toxic. Instead, we have had nearly 15 years of continued state support and funding of hateful ideologies around the world.

If history is any guide, America is not going to be turning its guns on Saudi Arabia ally any time soon. If anything, America will probably provide more arms and other military support to prop up a regime under internal threat from even more extremist opponents. Unfortunately, this also means that America will stand quietly by Saudi Arabia while it continues to spread and finance hateful anti-Western ideology and cause trouble in the Middle East.

Related Web Columns:

Coming Home to Roost, October 13, 2015