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.