Expecting the Saudis to ‘Combat Extremist Ideology’ Is Folly
Niall Ferguson thinks we have the ridiculous Saudi orb all wrong:
But what was that orb? The answer was: the official launch button for a new Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. Not a single commentator considered for one second that this might be rather an important departure for the Saudi regime and potentially a real contribution to the campaign of “ideological warfare” that Trump proposed last year.
No one considered this because no one believes that there was any “real departure” on the Saudis’ part, and Trump’s goofy photo-op with the king didn’t change that. Imagine being credulous enough to accept at face value that a Saudi run center for “combating extremist ideology” is useful. At best, it is a show put on for appearances’ sake for the benefit of gullible Western audiences. The purpose of that show is to distract attention from the effects of actual Saudi policies in the surrounding region. It won’t come as a shock that Ferguson doesn’t talk about any of those policies or their effects.
The Saudis and some of their Gulf allies have been arming and funding jihadists in Syria for years, and over the last two years they have waged a pitiless war on Yemen that has sometimes involved their collaboration with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters. At the very least, the war on Yemen has been a boon to AQAP, but the Saudis are so preoccupied with fighting the Houthis and their allies that they don’t care. No one could look at their record and believe that the Saudis are reliable partners in “combating extremist ideology,” and so no one should buy for a minute that their new center is anything more than a Potemkin village of counter-terrorism.
Ferguson goes on to say this:
For decades Saudi Arabia has been the principal source of funding for the export of Sunni fundamentalism. Leaning on the Saudis is therefore an essential first step. Obviously there has to be some quid pro quo if the House of Saud really is going to turn off the cash tap.
But there is no evidence that Trump is “leaning on the Saudis” at all. On the contrary, he is praising them to the skies before they have done anything to deserve it, and he is continuing and expanding on Obama’s disastrous policy of arming them to the teeth and indulging their worst behavior.