Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Saudi-US Relationship

The recent death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud provides a prime example of the failure of the US Grand Strategy as it is applied in its current form.  The failure is not tied to one party but rather is a systematic failure by the policy makers to see to the US interests and ensure that what we are trying to accomplish will actually have a chance of success.  The current emphasis on the counter-terrorism operations against ISIL cannot be truly successful unless we sever the Saudi connection which provides both spiritual and financial help to ISIL and similar movements across the world.

ISIL, the group that took over parts of Iraq and Syria this summer, is a Sunni Muslim organization.  Saudi Arabia is a major Sunni Muslim Arab power that not only follows the strict interpretation of Muslim religious law at home, but actually spends a lot of money abroad promoting that same view.  When one looks at ISIL and Saudi methods of governance there is really not that much which is different.  Neither one is even close to be seen as any kind of representative system of governance.  Both are hostile to women and their rights, both are anti-Christian and anti-Jew.  Saudi Arabia for instance does not allow non-Muslim in the city of Mecca and ISIL does not seem to be welcoming to non-Muslims anywhere.  Both use beheadings as and integral part of their justice system.  The Saudi’ Wahhabi Sunni doctrine is pretty much the one ISIL uses to justify its rule. Truly when one compares the two side by side it is hard to see the difference between them, except that the Saudi government actually has a significant amount of money which it uses to promote its vision of Wahhabi Islam across the world.  Plus, don’t forget the 15 of 19 “9/11” hijackers were Saudi citizens, as was Bin-Laden.

To truly defeat the Sunni Islamic threat such as ISIL, we would have to alter our relationship with Saudi Arabia and treat them as they should be treated.   Their ideology and beliefs is what feeds and nurtures groups such as ISIL.  Unless we plan on playing whac-a-mole for the next 100 years in the Middle East stamping out ISIL and its replacements we have to cut them off at the source.  That means Saudi Arabia.  It has to be made clear to them that in their current state they are a pariah a state, a repressive dictatorship on par with North Korea.  Both are ruled by dynasties.  As such they should be sanctioned to eliminate their ability to sell their oil on the world markets, similar to what Iran had to face over its nuclear program.  The sanctions would have an impact across the world economy, but there is no better time than now with oil prices as low as they are.  Combine that development, with ongoing improvements in green energy technology, and one can see that the world can survive without Saudi oil.  It won’t be easy or painless, but neither is perpetual anti-terrorist operations in the Middle East.  At least there would be a chance of success if the terrorist problem is address at the root.

Until this occurs the Saudi will continue to sell their oil and use the proceeds to finance those who seek to do us harm.  To only focus on the Sunni terror groups and not on the sources of their funding and spiritual support is a failed strategy that is not working and will not work long term without permanent US presence in the Middle East.  At some point we have to realize that the “realist” international relations doctrine we use to justify the support for Saudi regime is no longer beneficial to us.  Given the billions spent in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting Salafist/Wahhabi Sunni terrorists a better strategy would have been insuring the Saudis could not sell their oil to finance world wide Sunni Wahhabi ideology.  Ideology, which at its core is hostile to the Western world.   We should have used hose billions spent in Iraq and Afghanistan reducing our reliance on oil.  To set our Grand Strategy on the path of defeating Sunni terrorists will truly require a re-evaluation of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.  That would allow us to eliminate the main source which creates and drives those same Sunni terrorists.


The Eastern Winter Offensive?

Since the beginning of the new year the only event of any significance with regards to international relations is the uptick in fighting in the Eastern Ukraine, between the government forces and the Russian backed proxies.  The attacks in Paris that happened just after the new year, while tragic are not a game changer despite the media hype.  Terrorist attacks happened before and will happen again.  World Trade center 1993, Spanish Train Bombing 2004, London attacks 2005 just to name a few.  We will never be able to prevent every attack, despite what some leaders promise.  What people should take away from the Paris attacks is how quickly the power of the state can hunt down the criminals who perpetrate those attacks.  One day is all it took for the authorities to find those responsible and bring them to justice.  The renewed fighting in the Eastern Ukraine does however raise the specter of state v state warfare, with Russia pitted against Ukraine.

Strategically it makes zero sense for Putin to continue the material and financial support of the insurgents.  The Russian economy is tanking and his continued support only ensures that the West will maintain or increase the sanctions on Russian economy.  Through the cost benefit analysis it is hard to see how Russia benefits from supporting those two enclaves.  The Ukrainian parliament is taking steps to distance Ukraine from Russia, and move towards NATO, and the Ukrainian people will not forget Russian intervention.  Everything Putin has tried to prevent from happening is happening.  Ukraine is moving towards the West and further away from the Russian world.  What remains to be seen is if Putin survives the fallout from this adventure abroad.

Tactically, it will be interesting to see if the Ukrainian armed forces learned their lessons from the summer 2014 fighting.  The need for them to eliminate Russian provided SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) was clear given their fighter loses.  Any renewed operations will have to start with the destruction of the SAMs controlled by the separatists, which would pave the wave for combined arms operations against the insurgent enclaves.  Based on previous Ukrainian performance the expectations of success are low, but people should hold their judgement until the first few offensives.  The threat of Russian counter-attack will hang over the Ukrainian operation.  By itself tactically that it is tough problem to solve, given Russia’s resources and the need to keep forces in reserve.  However, strategically, the Russian assault it is what the Ukrainians should hope for.  A strong defense against Russian counter-attack which produces massive Russian casualties.

The only way for Ukraine to win this war is to win it in the minds of the Russian people.  Ukraine will never be able to match resources available to Russia without massive Western support, which is not forthcoming.  The way to influence Russian public opinion is to produce massive causalities among the Russian troops operating inside Ukraine.  Some sparks of Russian discontent were evident last summer when Ukrainians captured a dozen or so Russian soldier and killed as many or more .  The Russian government was able to suppress the fallout from those incidents.  However, it is highly unlikely it could do so if the casualties reach in the thousands.  And that is the only way Ukraine can win.  It doesn’t really matter if they loose battles along the way as long as they win the war.  The insurgent enclaves will fall once the Russian support is gone and it is hard to see how Mr. Putin would survive such setback,  especially combined with economic problems facing Russia.