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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Doubling Down on Stupid

ISIS is a product of our arming and training Syrian rebels. So what does Obama want to do to counter ISIS? "Mr. Obama sketched out a plan that will involve heightened American training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels to fight the militants. Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide bases for the training of those forces." (Source). 

Sort of setting the fox to guard the henhouse strategy. Brent Parish explains:
The rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq can be described as a Wahabi-based movement.
Wahabism is an austere and severe form of Islam that embraces violent jihad against the “infidel” (dar al-Harb vs. dar al-Islam, Islam vs. the world) and the strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law.
 
Qatar has the highest population of Wahabis in the Middle East (46%). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the second highest population of Wahabis (44%), with Saudi Arabia following in third place (22%), according to “Demography of Religion in the Gulf” by Mehrdad Izady and the CNN report in the video above. 
The United States has close relationships with Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has a large military base in Qatar. 
Qatar acted as an intermediary between the U.S., Taliban and Haqqani crime syndicate during the negotiations to secure the release of alleged U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdhal. The five Taliban commanders released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdhal were welcomed with open arms in Doha, Qatar. 
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been actively funding Sunni terrorist groups in Syria. Furthermore, there are numerous reports Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funding ISIS as well.
In short, " ISIS is made up of Wahabis who have a deadly grudge against Shia Muslims. Their aim is to destroy the Shia-friendly government of Iraq and stamp out Shia influence from the region."

What this means is that Saudi Arabians are not necessarily opposed to ISIS. Alistair Crooke, writing at the Huffington Post, recently gave this analysis:
Saudi Arabia's internal discord and tensions over ISIS can only be understood by grasping the inherent (and persisting) duality that lies at the core of the Kingdom's doctrinal makeup and its historical origins. 
One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn ╩┐Abd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader -- amongst many -- of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.) 
The second strand to this perplexing duality, relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz's subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalization of the original Wahhabist impulse -- and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export -- by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution throughout the Muslim world. 
But this "cultural revolution" was no docile reformism. It was a revolution based on Abd al-Wahhab's Jacobin-like hatred for the putrescence and deviationism that he perceived all about him -- hence his call to purge Islam of all its heresies and idolatries.
... Abd al-Wahhab demanded conformity -- a conformity that was to be demonstrated in physical and tangible ways. He argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated, he wrote. The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all. 
... Why should we be surprised then, that from Prince Bandar's Saudi-Western mandate to manage the insurgency in Syria against President Assad should have emerged a neo-Ikhwan type of violent, fear-inducing vanguard movement: ISIS? And why should we be surprised -- knowing a little about Wahhabism -- that "moderate" insurgents in Syria would become rarer than a mythical unicorn? Why should we have imagined that radical Wahhabism would create moderates? Or why could we imagine that a doctrine of "One leader, One authority, One mosque: submit to it, or be killed" could ever ultimately lead to moderation or tolerance?
Crooke goes on to observe that the potential conflict with Saudi Arabia is not one of ideology, but who is the single Muslim leader to be followed. For the last couple of centuries, that "single Muslim ruler" was the Saudi king. ISIS has put forward its own Caliph in competition. Thus, it is true that the current Saudi government views ISIS as threat; but any "rebels" trained in Saudi Arabia to fight ISIS will be indoctrinated with the same Wahabi fundamentalism that has fueled Islamic terrorism around the world. Or, as Saurabh Bhattacharya wrote nearly a month ago:
David Gardner while explaining the phenomenon for Financial Times, writes that Saudi Arabia not only exports oil, but tanker-loads of quasi-totalitarian religious dogma and pipelines of jihadi volunteers even as it struggles to insulate itself from the blowback. King Abdullah, in his end of Ramadan address, warned against the “devilish” extremism of “these deviant forces”. Jihadi extremism does present a threat to the Kingdom. But in doctrinal terms it is hard to see in what way it “deviates” from Wahabi orthodoxy with its literalist and exclusivist rendering of Sunni Islam. Its extreme interpretation of monotheism anathematises other beliefs, in particular the “idolatrous” practices of Christians and Shia Muslims, as infidel or apostate. 
It is this element of monotheism that has spread a fanatic school of Islam which is razing down the multiplicity of thought within the religion as well. Supported by financial aid from petro-economy of the Saudis, it helped spread the reach of the Kingdom’s school of Islam. What is worrying is is the question about whether this is just expansionism of faith rather than tactics to sustain political dominance.
... Faced with a conflict that is fast going out of control, Saudi Arabia may well lose control over the Wahabi Sunni school of thought, with the likes of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi trying to hijack that space. Money they may not have, but they have succeeded in posing a legitimate threat. They have laid claim to the saudi control over the Wahabi sect.
 As Crooke notes in a follow-up article, this conflict could lead the collapse Saudi Arabia:
The key political question is whether the simple fact of ISIS' successes, and the full manifestation (flowering) of all the original pieties and vanguardism of the archetypal impulse, will stimulate and activate the dissenter 'gene' -- within the Saudi kingdom. 
If it does, and Saudi Arabia is engulfed by the ISIS fervor, the Gulf will never be the same again. Saudi Arabia will deconstruct and the Middle East will be unrecognizable.
In short, this is the nature of the time bomb tossed into the Middle East. The ISIS allusions to Abd al-Wahhab and Juhayman (whose dissident writings are circulated within ISIS) present a powerful provocation: they hold up a mirror to Saudi society that seems to reflect back to them an image of "purity" lost and early beliefs and certainties displaced by shows of wealth and indulgence.
 
This is the ISIS "bomb" hurled into Saudi society. King Abdullah -- and his reforms -- are popular, and perhaps he can contain a new outbreak of Ikwhani dissidence. But will that option remain a possibility after his death? 
And here is the difficulty with evolving U.S. policy, which seems to be one of "leading from behind" again -- and looking to Sunni states and communities to coalesce in the fight against ISIS (as in Iraq with the Awakening Councils). 
It is a strategy that seems highly implausible. Who would want to insert themselves into this sensitive intra-Saudi rift? And would concerted Sunni attacks on ISIS make King Abdullah's situation better, or might it inflame and anger domestic Saudi dissidence even further? So whom precisely does ISIS threaten? It could not be clearer. It does not directly threaten the West (though westerners should remain wary, and not tread on this particular scorpion). 
The Saudi Ikhwani history is plain: As Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab made it such in the 18th century; and as the Saudi Ikhwan made it such in the 20th century. ISIS' real target must be the Hijaz -- the seizure of Mecca and Medina -- and the legitimacy that this will confer on ISIS as the new Emirs of Arabia.
While it is understandable that the Saudis want to confront ISIS, it is terrible for American policy. It is the West that should crush ISIS, and with it, the aspirations of Wahabists. Instead, all we are going to do is to help train the next iteration of ISIS--assuming that the House of Saud survives what is coming.

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