I worked in a Saudi Navy shipyard on the Persian Gulf for two years, 1982 and 1983. I had a nodding acquaintance with about a dozen Saudi sailors. I knew the names of about 6 with whom I spoke about work matters occasionally. I only had a wide ranging conversation with two, both young Naval Officers, on just a few occasions. This experience peaked an abiding interest. Though my time there gave me a feel for the place, the vast majority of what I know of Saudi Arabia is from talking with my American co-workers while there and subsequent reading for the last 30 years.
If you can’t identify a problem, you have no chance of solving it.
The Islamic Terrorists that we and the rest of the world are now dealing with so frequently, at great cost, need four things:
- A motivating ideology — Salafism, or Wahhabism which is close enough
- Manpower — a source of recruits indoctrinated with the ideology
- Safe Haven — a place to train and organize and have sanctuary
Saudi Arabia’s state religion, Wahhabism provides the ideology. The Saudi Religious establishment and their religious Charities provided Al-Qaeda’s initial seed money. “Private” Saudi money and money from it’s religious establishment still finds it’s way to Islamic Terrorists. Saudi Arabia itself and the Saudi funded madrassas in Pakistan and other Islamic countries provide manpower for Al-Qaeda and now ISIS.
The only thing they lack from Saudi Arabia is a Safe Haven, which they find in failed Islamic states. First Afghanistan, then Iraq early after the 2003 war, now Libya, Syria and again Iraq.
Saudi Arabia is the root of the problem.
There should be a place for truth and logic in our foreign policy. We need to face the truth about Saudi Arabia and apply logic in our dealings with them. Saudi Arabia funds the export of the Salafi or Wahhabi Islamic ideology that motivates radical Sunni Islamists. Saudi money is largely responsible for the accelerating worldwide spread of this ideology over the last 30 years.
On 9/11, fifteen of the 19 young men who flew the planes into the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and into the field near Shanksville PA were from Saudi Arabia. They were all between 20 and 30 years old. These guys were the product of the teachings of the Saudi state supported religion Wahhabism, that is effectively the ideology of Al-Qaida. Saudi schools have in effect been handed over to the Wahhabi religious establishment. The attitudes and beliefs of these young men that led them to participate in the 9/11 attacks are those attitudes and beliefs that they picked up in those schools. How did this situation come to pass?
In the 1920’s the founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al Saud, formed an alliance with a religious leader, Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and his militant followers, the Ikhwan. With this contribution of motivated manpower he overcame the other tribal rulers in the area of the Arabian Peninsula now known as Saudi Arabia, and established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since then the Saud family and the Wahhabis have had their ups and downs, with the Sauds first trying to keep the Wahhabis in the background. They still had a bunch of militant Wahhabis but they were slowly modernizing their culture, by osmosis from world travel,returning students, and the thousands of westerners, mostly Americans, staffing their oil producer, ARAMCO, till 1979. In November of 1979 about 400 Islamic militants took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The militants involved were in part angered by what they considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi Regime. After a month or so of fighting the Saudi Military took back the Mosque. The survivors were beheaded after Friday prayers in various towns and cities.
The militants had a point. The regime was and is corrupt. The Royal family is a varied bunch, all sharing one idea, that they have the right to Rule Saudi Arabia. Beyond that they break down into three categories. Some are “”decent pious people”” like late King Abdullah ( 2005 to 2015) , some are wastrel whore hopping playboys like his immediate predecessor Fahad, (1982 – 2005) and some are would-be despots like the now deceased ( 2012 thank God ) Crown Prince and planned successor Naif, all of them supported in lavish lifestyle, in the midst of poverty. ( This is my characterization of these members of the royal family, who I think are representative of the bunch. ) The Saud family is not stupid, they could see the writing on the wall. If they were to maintain their power and huge wealth, they had to reestablish their connection to the Wahhabis and cloak themselves in religion for legitimacy, and start spreading some of the wealth around. To maintain their power and vast riches, they made a Faustian bargain that continues to this day. This bargain is causing increasing world wide problems.
After the Grand Mosque take over, the Sauds immediately ceded a lot of power and money to the Wahhabis. They gave the Wahhabis control of education and social life in the kingdom. They vastly increased the money they transferred to the Wahhabis. In turn, the Wahhabis conferred legitimacy on the rule of the Saud family.
The Wahhabis put in place the school curricula that the young 9/11 hijackers were raised under. In addition they started a worldwide evangelical campaign to promote Wahhabi Islam. Since 1979 they have spent over $100 Billion on this campaign. These days when we are speaking of Trillion dollar deficits, $100 Billion doesn’t seem like that much money, but put another way, “One Hundred Thousand Million” and it does seem like real money. This is a lot of money, particularly in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan. They have established thousands of madrassas, schools where they teach mostly the Koran. In many places these are the only schools available. They have founded or taken over thousands of Mosques worldwide where the Wahhabi teachings are what is taught. The dividend of this 30 year long investment program is now being paid in blood, more and more frequently for the last 15 years with the rise of militant Islam, with Wahhabism its ideological core.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Everyone in Washington DC responsible for dealing with our war with militant Islam knows where the root of this problem starts – Saudi Arabia. What have we done about it? Very little.
In response to the finding that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, the obvious came to light. The Islamic indoctrination in their school curriculum inculcated in their kids the attitudes that could lead these young men to think that they were striking a blow for Islam by taking part in the 9/11 suicide attacks against the west. Right after 9/11 the Saudis promised to revise their school curricula to de-emphasise hatred for the infidel. It has been over 14 years and they have not done it. What have we said or done about that ? Nothing. Why not?
One of the reasons is revealed by this well known quote from Prince Bandar, the long time Saudi ambassador to the US:
“”If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.”
He is saying here that the Saudis buy the services of US Diplomats and politicians by providing a well founded expectation that the Saudis will hire them in retirement in some very well paid job not involving much work. They do indeed carry out this promise. Here is a link to an article on the subject that names names.: http://townhall.com/columnists/joelmowbray/2003/10/01/feeding_at_the_saudi_trough/page/full
The net result of this policy of the Saudis, is that we have diplomats and politicians that are reluctant to hold the Saudis feet to the fire and insist that they tamp down the spread of the Wahhabi ideology fueling militant Islamists all over the world. This is due to their fear that if they hold the Saudis feet to the fire they will be cut off from the Saudi funded retirement gravy train. The favor of the Saudis also opens doors for them to sit on the boards of companies doing very lucrative massive civil, industrial and military projects in Saudi Arabia.
If our diplomats and politicians were working for us they could do three things that could help over time, meaning a generation. Which brings up another problem, continuity of US policy, which I will address on a separate future page to be titled DUTY.
- First they could insist, loudly, frequently and publicly that the Saudi school curriculum be scrubbed of the content that promotes hate for the infidel and justifies violence against the infidel.
- Second, they could insist privately that the Saudi and other Gulf Arab funding of Al-Qaida, ISIS and other similar groups stop. We could insist that those Saudis and Gulf Arabs we know to be funding radical islamic terrorist groups be prosecuted. If private insistence fails then they could insist publicly, loudly and frequently. If that did not do it, then these individuals should start turning up dead. They are killing us.
- Third, they could do everything possible to promote transition to legitimate democratic government in Saudi Arabia. This would have to be a long term low key project, very unpopular with the Royal Family. Any diplomat or US politician who pushed for democratization could not look forward to a fat pay, mostly no show, retirement job funded by the Saudis.
The other reason we have not put pressure on the Saudis is that we act like they have us over an oil barrel. That is no longer true, but we act as if we haven’t noticed.
The Saudis have to sell oil, they need the money. Since they are such a large low-cost producer they were able to drive up the price by holding oil off the market, due to fracking that is no longer possible. They can still flood the market and drive down the price, below the production costs for fracked wells, which is what they are doing now. They have two reasons for flooding the market to drive down the oil price, Iran and the Frackers. They want to reduce the income possibilities of Iran and they want to bankrupt the Frackers and drive them out of business. They are succeeding at both, for now, but they have driven their country ( really a family business ) into deficit and are now operating in a deficit situation that is costing them about $100 Billion per year of the net foreign assets held by their central bank, which now amount to around $650 Billion. It is now probably cutting into the “escape money” that the Royal Family has stashed all over the world. They have a rapidly expanding population ( almost tripled in 30 years) , with increasing expectations. They need high spending levels to to keep their population subsidized and happy. They can’t cut back much. Their future now looks tenuous. Due to the maturation of the horizontal drilling and fracking oil production technologies, world oil production capacity has shot up, particularly in the US, at the same time the world economy is down. Their ability to eventually, within a few years, drive up prices to a level required to keep their population subsidized to the level they now expect is doubtful. The Wahabi Tiger that the Sauds are riding must be fed large amounts of money, lest it turn on its rider.
We did have substantial leverage over the Saudis, since we were their protector, but we did not use it. With Saddam on their border they needed a reliable protector. Saddam is now gone and Iran is now their biggest external threat, but President Obama has thrown away our credibility as anyone’s protector or ally and he is desperate to come to accommodations with Iran. Not much chance that Obama will do anything to curb the Saudi’s ideological support for Sunni Islamic Terrorism, but their current money crunch may reduce monetary support from Saudi sources a little.
At a critical moment in their history the Saudis don’t have a reliable protector. Their regional rival, Iran with 4 times the population, with a real, somewhat competent, loyal military establishment is now on the path to nuclear weapons. The loyalty and motivation of the Saudi military establishment has always been questionable. Their level of competence has always been a joke.
Saudi Arabia is a problem that looks like it will get worse. They have a succession problem developing with the change of generations that will take place with the current King’s death, or before. The Saudi’s have usually been conservative and cautious. For the past year it looks like they have been increasingly less conservative and cautious. They now have a King, Salman, 81 years old, who had a stroke and is reportedly somewhat demented. This old gent had been a pretty good governor of their Capital city, Riyadh, for 48 years and apparently did a good job overseeing it’s development from a small city of 80 Thousand to a major city of 5 Million. Recent developments in the Kingdom support the reports of dementia and reduced capacity. There are consistent reports of a building succession controversy set up by Salman, maybe unintentionally. The Crown Prince, the King’s nephew Mohammad bin Nyef, 57, would normally advance to King, but it looks like the King Salman may be grooming his 30 year old son Mohammad bin Salman to succeed him, passing over the Crown Prince. Who knows what is really going on, but the Saudis executed 47 people on Jan 2, 2016, mostly Al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni alleged terrorists but including a popular Saudi Shia cleric, Nemer al-Nemer, who was probably just a popular dissident who had the bad manners and bad judgment to bad mouth the Saudi Royal Family rule. This mass execution may have been due to a tough guy competition between Mo bin Nyef and Mo bin Salman. Nemer al-Nemer did not rate getting his head chopped off, and everybody knows it, even the Saudi man in the street, they are not stupid. The competing princes are setting the table for a problem they may not be able to handle. Hold on folks, this could get very bumpy and lead to an erratic government and possible uprisings in Saudi Arabia for the next few years.