Sunday, September 18, 2005

Al Qaeda and the House of Saud

One of the key issues involving the War on Radical Islamism is the place of Saudi Arabia in the conflict. Is the Saudi regime an aider and abettor of jihadism, or an essential ally in the struggle? The answer, as laid out by John Bradley in a superb essay republished by FrontPage Magazine, is that the House of Saud is both part of the problem and part of the solution:

There were thus two polarized reactions to the conference, reflecting the diametrically opposed views among Saudi observers in the West when it comes to the question of the kingdom's role in the "war on terrorism". On one side are those such as Townsend who, believing Saudi Arabia to be a crucial ally, focused on the conference's powerful symbolism. They stressed that one of its important objectives was to dispel persisting doubts in the West about the Saudi royal family's commitment to combating terrorism. On the other side are those who see duplicity in every al-Saud statement [4] and were especially critical of the conference's high symbolism, as it allowed the regime to showcase its purported counterterrorism successes without having to engage in substantive debate on broader, more controversial issues.

Both interpretations contain elements of truth. When it comes to the issue of fighting al-Qaeda, the al-Saud regime has been and continues to be part of the problem in fundamental ways. Yet, it is equally undeniable that, considering the absolute nature of the al-Saud family's rule and the dearth of acceptable alternatives, at least in Western eyes, the regime is indispensable to any solution to terrorism. Townsend implicitly acknowledged in Riyadh that, if bin Laden's goal was to overthrow the House of Saud and subsequently to gain the prestige that would come from the custodianship of Islam's two holy mosques and control of one-quarter of the world's known oil reserves, then the main US policy objective in response must be to guarantee the royal family's survival.


As Bradley lays out in detail, the Saudis are engaged in a double game; cracking down on individual jihadists while continuing to encourage the Wahhabist belief system that helps foster jihadism. While the United States should not try to induce precipitate change in Saudi Arabia, we need to push for long-term reform in the kingdom:

Riyadh's relentless fight against militants and repeated calls for national unity have conveniently provided a facade behind which the monarchy can abandon the few reform initiatives previously in place and reverse any movement, at least in the short term, toward democratic change. By remaining complicit with the regime, particularly at a time when Saudi citizens remain oppressed, unemployed and in some cases even impoverished, Washington is essentially allowing the kingdom to become a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda.

The United States is dependent on Saudi oil, but the Saudi regime is dependent on the US for its survival. Current US policy toward the kingdom should use that leverage to call for genuine reform, rather than just supporting the royal family in the belief that it will keep terrorists at bay. If the US does not look beyond the short-term benefits of stability resulting from its relationship with the Saudi regime, it will face far more severe, long-term consequences.



Al-Qaeda and the House of Saud


As is the case elsewhere in the Middle East, the status quo in Saudi Arabia is ultimately untenable. If we do not foster change that is compatible with democracy and pluralism, bin Laden and his allies will bring their own brand of reform to the Arabian Peninsula.

1 Comments:

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10:21 PM  

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