Want to Fight the Terrorist Enemy? Start With Allies Like Saudi Arabia

By Matt Purple, April 25, 2016

It began, as these things usually do, with a carrot. After President Obama assailed Saudi Arabia for being a "free rider" in an interview with The Atlantic, Prince Turki al Faisal published a rejoinder at Arab News where he trumpeted Saudi-American cooperation. The message was clear: Lay off the criticism and we'll stand by you.

The stick came a month later. Stung by the introduction of a bill in Congress that would open their government to lawsuits from 9/11 victims, the Saudisthreatened to divest in $750 billion of U.S. government assets. You expose us and we'll damage your economy. It was a superfluous move—Obama has already vowed to fight the legislation—and, for the typically reserved Saudis, an unusually brusque one. You might even call it geopolitical blackmail, which several of the 9/11 families did.

The Saudi-American friendship has hit a breaking point. That's partially because of the nuclear deal with Iran, which Saudi Arabia views with suspicion. But it's also because American policymakers are waking up to an uncomfortable reality: the conflict with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is, in many ways, a conflict with a network of terror enablers deep inside Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi state was born from a synthesis between the ruling House of Saud and fearsome Wahhabi warriors. The resulting government was predicated on Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam with a Spartan interpretation of Sharia that became codified in Saudi law. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Saudis brandished Wahhabism as a weapon to counter Iran's newly mobilized Shiite fundamentalism. Better to export their extremism to other countries than lose control of it at home.

Matt Purple is a fellow at Defense Priorities and the deputy editor at Rare Politics.

This piece was originally published by Reason on April 22, 2016. Read more HERE

Photo courtesy of Soldier Media Center.