Monday, November 16, 2015

Abbottabad Blues

Sadly, we are learning a very bitter lesson in terrorism.  The Death of Bin Laden, in 2011, was seen by many as the end of al Qaeda.  However, ISIS has emerged, which is every bit as well organized and deadly as was its predecessor.  It has quickly morphed into a major global threat, as witnessed this past Friday in Paris, and is planning more international strikes in its effort to bring its jihad to Europe.  At least, that is what many would like us to believe.

I don't think for one moment that ISIS actually entertains the idea of a global jihad anymore than al Qaeda did when it coordinated attacks in the US in 2001.  What it wants is to drag the US and Europe into wars in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.  How it plans to do that isn't very clear, as it would be coming against a combined firepower the early Mohammedans (who they purportedly model themselves after) never had to face.  But, I guess they think they can win a war of attrition that will tax the Western countries' patience, leaving a tattered set of Islamic nations that are easy prey to its toxic radicalism, which is currently being seen in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

What the United States has to figure out is who stands to gain the most from this militant Sunni uprising, and fingers point to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Both are Wahhabist states founded in the late 18th century.  One can argue that these countries' support of radical Wahhabit mosques throughout the world has spawned a Frankenstein in the current radical Islamist revolt we see.  Or, that the oil-rich shiekhs imagine a new Ottoman Empire based out of the Middle East with a radical Sunni theology at its base.  I'm sure there are other scenarios as well, but if we have any hope of containing ISIS, we have to look to its source, and that can be found in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is without a doubt the most repressive of Muslim nations, yet it has been our "ally" for decades, largely because the House of Saud is at the center of OPEC.  It is staggering how much money this royal family has.  It makes Buckingham Palace look like a House of Paupers by comparison.  They spend upwards of $1 billion on each of their homes and have the most highly prized car and jet plane collections in the world.  Pretty amazing for a king who claims to be Wahhabist, a Muslim sect that based its faith on religious purity.

As the story goes, bin Laden was so appalled at the extravagance of the royal family and its ancillary families that he created al Qaeda from his own personal wealth.  The Persian Gulf War was the tipping point for him, upset that Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations could band together with the infidels to fight a war against their own people.  Not like bin Laden had any time for a secularist tyrant like Hussein, but in his mind it should be Muslims fighting Muslims for the purity of the religion.  So, bin Laden took his war to America, the chief culprit in these dirty alliances.

We saw the bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the torpedoing of the USS Cole and finally the coordinated attack on US cities that fateful day of September 11, 2001.  I guess bin Laden said if you want a war, America, you will have to fight it on our terms, and for over a decade we have been fighting a war on terror on multiple fronts with no end in sight.

The US has taken out its fair share of bad guys, including Hussein and bin Laden, but ISIS keeps growing.  Many critics felt the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq emboldened these radical groups and enlarged their recruiting bases and fields of operations.  With the Arab Spring in 2011 that coincided with the death of bin Laden, civil wars have spread throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa.  There is fierce fighting in Syria and Libya, with other countries facing insurrections as well, like poor little Yemen.  It's reached the point, where no one is sure who is fighting who? as radical Shia extremists have gotten into the mix as well.

I'm not going to pretend to know what is going on, as you would have to be a scholar steeped in Islamic history to understand the bitter sectarian violence that has plagued the religion for centuries.  Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab rose from a similar conflagration of sectarian violence in the 18th century, for whom this radical Islam has been named.  He is not much unlike Martin Luther in this regard, as he inspired others to launch religious holy wars that eventually led to the formation of Protestant states throughout Europe. This is what happened in the Middle East.

Our basic problem is that we have no idea what is going on in the Middle East or anywhere else in the Muslim world for that matter.  We are simply trying to protect our interests in these regions.  We couldn't give a rat's ass who is in power just as long as he serves our interests.  This is how the House of Saud got mixed up with the United States, as well as the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein.  In the latter two cases, these tyrannical leaders were going to help modernize their states as Ataturk and Nasser tried to do in Turkey and Egypt.  Little wonder Islamic militants raised their ugly heads again.

You can no more usher modernism at the point of a sword than you can radical Islam.  The vast majority of Muslims would like to see the end of ISIS as would Westerners.  This is why you have so many refugees fleeing Syria.  They are not coming to Europe and America to set up a new caliphate but to seek economic opportunities no longer available to them in war torn Syria.  Instead of trying to broker a compromise, the US and Europe remains determined to oust Bashar al-Assad, not knowing what will replace his regime.  As a result, Assad has managed to hang onto power, thanks to Russian support, over the last four years in spite of the "Arab Spring."

No one is saying Assad is a good guy, but then neither is King Salman of Saudi Arabia.  This guy has no qualms with the beheadings taking place in his country over everything from drug charges to adultery to sorcery and witchcraft. Attempts at amnesty for the victims have fallen on deaf ears.  He's just been more effective at keeping his country under a tight screw than has Assad.

We missed our opportunity to take the Saudis to task.  When the bombings were carried out in 2001, the Saudi royals were immediately flown out of the country no questions asked.  This quick exodus included members of the bin Laden family.  Of course, we can presume that Osama was the black sheep of the family and that these persons had no ties to his activities, but one would like to think we would be more circumspect, as Osama continued to get funding long after his money ran out.

Through it all, little scrutiny has been brought to bear on the House of Saud.  We have made Iran part of the axis of evil, condemning its support of Hezbollah and Hamas.  Yet, don't bat an eyelash at the Wahhabist mosques the Saudi royalty supports, many of which have served as safe havens for al Qaeda and ISIS operatives.

Maybe the Obama administration has finally come to the realization that all is not what it seems in Riyadh, after going through the computer files found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. This could be one reason he had little problem squelching the Saudi king's protests over the Iran nuclear deal.  Whatever the case, it is time we more thoroughly examine our relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the ISIS bombings in Paris.

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