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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default US policy with an ally like the Saudis till 2016

    20 Face Lash for Dancing in Saudi Arabia - AP.

    Saudi Arabia - A Saudi Arabian judge sentenced 20 foreigners to receive lashes and spend several months in prison after convicting them of attending a party where alcohol was served and men and women danced, a newspaper reported Sunday.

    The defendants were among 433 foreigners, including some 240 women, arrested by the kingdom's religious police for attending the party in Jiddah, the state-guided newspaper Okaz said. It did not identify the foreigners, give their nationalities or say when the party took place. Judge Saud al-Boushi sentenced the 20 to prison terms of three to four months and ordered them to receive an unspecified number of lashes, the newspaper said. They have the right to appeal, it added.

    Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam under which it bans alcohol and meetings between unrelated men and women.

    The religious police, a force resented by many Saudis for interfering in personal lives, enjoys wide powers. Its officers roam malls, markets, universities and other public places looking for such infractions as unrelated men and women mingling, men skipping Islam's five daily prayers and women with strands of hair showing from under their veil...

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    Council Member bismark17's Avatar
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    Default Re:

    I love the title to this post.... With allies like Pakistan and them how can we go wrong?

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    Default Rappin' In Riyahd

    Some of our Rock and Rap groups would be beheaded for performing, huh? It's enough to make a man want to use biodiesel and electricity as the main means of powering vehicles.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default LBR Review by Tari Ali on the Saudi Monarchy and Aramco

    Another LBR essay, this one looking at the Saudi monarchy and oil.

    Best

    Tom

    In Princes’ Pockets
    Tariq Ali
    America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier by Robert Vitalis · Stanford, 353 pp, £19.50

    Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation by Madawi Al-Rasheed · Cambridge, 308 pp, £19.99

    The day after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, a Saudi woman resident in London, a member of a wealthy family, rang her sister in Riyadh to discuss the crisis affecting the kingdom. Her niece answered the phone.

    ‘Where’s your mother?’

    ‘She’s here, dearest aunt, and I’ll get her in a minute, but is that all you have to say to me? No congratulations for yesterday?’

    The dearest aunt, out of the country for far too long, was taken aback. She should not have been. The fervour that didn’t dare show itself in public was strong even at the upper levels of Saudi society. US intelligence agencies engaged in routine surveillance were, to their immense surprise, picking up unguarded cellphone talk in which excited Saudi princelings were heard revelling in bin Laden’s latest caper. Like the CIA, they had not thought it possible for him to reach such heights.

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    It has long been my contention here on SWJ that the nature of the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America is the Center of Gravity of the decade long War on Terrorism.

    Today on a thread regarding Iran and a possible AQ link.
    http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/201...-alqa/#c022781

    Dayuhan posed a fair observation and question:

    I understand your concern with Saudi Arabia, but I think, as always, that you vastly overestimate AQ's reliance on Saudi resentment toward their own government, and even more vastly overestimate the ability of the US to do anything about the way Saudi Arabia is governed. We can rethink that relationship all we want; how we think isn't likely to change anything. They are not a vassal or a client state, and they are not going to change their way of governing because we want them to. I really don't know what, in any specific sense, you want the US to do about the Saudi situation.
    What indeed does one do with an Ally such as Saudi Arabia? The home of bin Laden. The home of the vast majority of the 9/11 attackers. The home of the vast majority of foreign fighters in Iraq. The home of one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet. The home of the largest proven oil reserves on the planet. What in deed does one do.

    I will explore that question, and invite others to join in that exploration as well.

    Bob
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 07-31-2011 at 09:26 AM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Alliance isn't only a function of common values. Common interests come into it as well, and those with whom we have interests in common aren't necessarily progressive. Those alliances - like all alliances - are not absolute, and we obviously have to consider the extent of our commitment at any given point... but common interests do exist.

    I've often heard it said that the US "supported the Saudis" when they were threatened by Saddam. This is to some extent true, but it's a highly distorted view. We did not act to protect the Saudis, we acted to protect ourselves. The US can't allow the Gulf oil supplies to be controlled or dominated by a hostile power that would use oil as a weapon. We would fight again if Iran threatened to control those oil supplies. Again, that has absolutely nothing to do with how we feel about the way the Saudis govern, or how progressive they are, or whether we like them. It's purely a matter of common interest.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    What indeed does one do with an Ally such as Saudi Arabia? The home of bin Laden. The home of the vast majority of the 9/11 attackers. The home of the vast majority of foreign fighters in Iraq. The home of one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet. The home of the largest proven oil reserves on the planet. What in deed does one do.
    Is our problem the way Saudi Arabia is governed, or is our problem our own addiction to oil? Both, obviously, but we might want to consider which of those is within our ability to control.

    It's easy to make assumptions, and altogether too easy to act on them, but there are a few here that we need to avoid.

    We're conditioned by our cold war history to see our dictatorial allies as dependents, over whom we have significant influence. We should not overestimate our influence over the Saudis and the other Gulf states.

    We easily fall into the trap of oversimplifying the political dynamics of other countries. We see an autocratic government, we assume a populace uniformly seeking freedom and a "government vs populace" dynamic. It's often a great deal more complicated than that. Trying to intervene in situations we don't fully understand, or that we misinterpret by assuming that our values apply universally, can quickly bounce back and bite us no the backside.

    It's also all too easy to assume that because many people in Saudi Arabia (or any number of other places) dislike their governments and resent our perceived (accurately or not) support for those governments, we can counter that resentment by openly pushing those governments to change, or by trying to somehow intervene as champion of the populace. That I think is a very dangerous delusion. Even people who detest their own governments often don't want the US trying to lecture those governments or dictate to them, or to act as the instigator of change. Our actions are typically seen as conspiratorial attempts to advance our own interests, and our active support can actually discredit a reform agenda. We do not want reformers to be seen as tools of the US.

    If we're asking the old "what can we do" question, we have to ask whether we have to do anything. Supporting those who seek change is often a good thing, if we can do it subtly and without seeming to direct or take over the reform agenda (subtlety, alas, has never been one of our strong suits). Trying to initiate, direct, or control political change in other countries... for me that's kind of a reverse Nike slogan: just don't do it.

    We should remember that what fuels support for AQ is not simply US support for repressive regimes, it's western interference in the Muslim world in general. We may say that we're interfering on behalf of the people, but who will believe us? Very even for even well intentioned interference to backfire on us.

    Not saying we should abandon all thought of intervention... but we need to think very, very carefully before trying to initiate political change in any other country, most especially those in the Middle East.

    Our default position in managing the internal affairs of other countries, IMO, should be to stay out of it. If that default seems unsustainable, three quick questions before taking any action:

    Must we?
    Can we?
    Should we?

    All three have to be very carefully reviewed before we go sticking ourselves into other people's business.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    R.C. Jones, you bet I'll join in. You want believe what has just recently come to light, well on second thought you probably want be surprised at all.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Sigh. Once more onto the beach...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    What indeed does one do with an Ally such as Saudi Arabia?
    Are they a real ally -- or just a nation with whom we do business, have some common interests and many disconnects? I'd say the latter.
    The home of bin Laden.
    Well, yeah. Though I'm totally unsure what that has to do with your topic.
    The home of the vast majority of the 9/11 attackers.
    Yep. Others from various places. Other attackers at other times in total outnumber the Saudis. Though, again, I'm not sure what that has to do with anything...
    The home of the vast majority of foreign fighters in Iraq.
    Way wrong, I suspect. No way to get really accurate numbers but generally, the Egyptians, Syrians and Sudanese were captured and killed in greater quantities than Saudis -- the foreign fighters in Iraq literally came from all over. As do those in Afghanistan, where Pakistanis and North African Arabs seem to be the most numerous. I think the problem is one of Islamic distaste for the US versus Saudi implacable hatred for us.
    The home of one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet.
    Yep, oppressive, one of the most so. Shame. Not our concern. We can express distaste but really have no right to do more. None.
    The home of the largest proven oil reserves on the planet.
    Proven (conservatively). Go to 2 P or 3 P and they drop well down in the tables IIRC. Canada and Russia (plus the US...) might hop out there... .
    What in deed does one do.
    Depends. Some say:

    - Subject them to intense pressures to change their ways, to include military action.

    - Buy no oil from them.

    - Work with them to achieve change using carrots and sticks.

    - Do nothing, they are a business associate, no more.

    - Support the Kingdom totally, get more involved with and supportive of Islam.

    And ten or so variations between each of those. IOW, there are numerous 'positions' on what should be done. Your problem is that those varied positions are held by and within the Congress of the United States and the current Administration (as well as almost any likely future Administration). i.e. No consensus, ergo, nothing will be done other than incremental nudges. As Martha Stewart, Federal felon says, "this is a good thing..."

    It is not our job to interfere with sovereign States and we darn sure do not do it very well. See Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq.

    I was reading a new book yesterday, ran across this line: "He (Lyndon Johnson, POTUS) was unable to make hard decisions -- to mobilize the reserves, to force the South Vietnamese government to reform, to commit fully to the war, or to explain his policy clearly to the American people."

    I agree the first, third and fourth were in the President's scope for decisions -- but I cackled at that second item. No US President has ever had the power to make such a decision and if he made it he couldn't enforce it. Yet that attitude -- we want if 'fixed' so it must be fixed is pervasive in US strategic and policy circles. It's foolish hubris. Thinking it's ones job to fix others is as dangerous and wrong as any Cold War missteps.

    Dayuhan has it right:

    ""Our actions are typically seen as conspiratorial attempts to advance our own interests, and our active support can actually discredit a reform agenda. We do not want reformers to be seen as tools of the US.

    If we're asking the old "what can we do" question, we have to ask whether we have to do anything. Supporting those who seek change is often a good thing, if we can do it subtly and without seeming to direct or take over the reform agenda (subtlety, alas, has never been one of our strong suits). Trying to initiate, direct, or control political change in other countries... for me that's kind of a reverse Nike slogan: just don't do it."
    "

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Experts don't consider the Saudi oil reserves claims reliable. The figures are pretty much made-up - no foreigner really knows how much oil they have.

    About "ally"; I remarked years ago that Americans tend to use that word inflationary. That is dangerous, for at times people really believe that a nation with which you had some agreements and which was called an "ally" is really allied - with obligations and all. See Georgia and the nutty idea that they were an ally and the U.S. should somehow intervene...
    The inflationary use of the word "ally" also leads to delusions in the "allied" country (again; Georgia!).


    Btw; the German government proved its lack of taste, judgement and class in regard to Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago.

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Good comments so far.

    First, when I suggest we need to "do something" I always direct that finger primarily in the direction of what do we change about ourselves, about our end of the equation, first. We need to evolve from defining our problems as being something we solve in foreign lands while we seek to go about business as usual at home.

    Second, the energy driving transnational terrorism is, IMO, primarily coming from a large number of long suppressed nationalist insurgencies that AQ and others tap into to leverage in support of their own agendas of power and control. This is important, because a global effort to leverage many distinct insurgencies does not make a "global insurgency" when done today by NSAs any more than it did in the Cold War when done by the Soviets and the US. Each is unique and must be addressed individually. Also the grievances and issues that create the conditions of insurgency among a populace are much more about perception than fact. More on that last one

    Dayuhan relies heavily on "fact;" and Ken raises some challenges to some of the "facts" I quickly laid out to help frame the discussion (I can provide cites), but the important thing to remember is that if the aggrieved populace believes something to be true or significant, then it is. Historically governments challenged by insurgency have tended to grossly discount the grievances of the populace as the conditions of insurgency were growing to noticeable levels, but still very manageable through simple civil adjustments on key points. Even when the insurgency explodes into violent, illegal action the governments tend to cling to their "rightness" on the issues, and to write off the insurgency as the actions of a few misguided malcontents, or on some radicalizing ideology, or some foreign actor, or any combination of the three. Rarely do they recognize that a long series of governmental disconnects have produced a widespread condition of insurgency among the populace from which such movements spring and are sustained.

    What are the perceptions of the Saudi people about their government?

    what are the perceptions of the Saudi people about the US?

    What are the perceptions of the Saudi people about the nature of the relationship between the Saudi Royals and the US?

    What aspect of these perceptions are in turn targeted and exploited by NSAs such as AQ?

    What small, reasonable changes could the US make on our end to help mitigate these perceptions?

    what small, reasonable changes could the Saudis make (beyond the enhanced bribes and security efforts being employed now in response to fears driven by Arab Spring)?
    Last edited by Bob's World; 07-31-2011 at 11:26 AM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Are they a real ally -- or just a nation with whom we do business, have some common interests and many disconnects? I'd say the latter.
    I think I'd say that they are not our ally, but that we are theirs.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Not really...

    Quote Originally Posted by motorfirebox View Post
    I think I'd say that they are not our ally, but that we are theirs.
    We are or will be if we feel like it at a given time but will drop or ignore them totally if it suits us. In the meantime, they are simply a habit, foolishly foisted on us by FDR -- and as any American knows, if Franklin did it, it must be honored and retained -- even if what we have done to it since wildly exceeds any ideas of FDR.

    In discussing relationships with nations, people are prone to equate a nation's actions and reactions with those of humans. Bad mistake. Nations don't have morals or a conscience (nor do many humans but that's another thread... ).

    The whole Middle East involvement thing is a habit -- and not a good one. We should've moved on forty plus years ago.

    That statement also applies, broadly, to oil...

    The US national polity is a bundle of conflicts. There is little political continuity but due to inertia and lack of imagination plus an arcane budgeting system, entirely too much policy continuity. Things get started for good reason and usually fairly sensibly -- but they then take on a life of their own and morph in strange and wondrous ways -- and they become habitual -- no matter how stupid they have become.

    However with respect to 'friends' and 'allies' there really are none other than temporarily when convenient. We, like Palmerston's Britain, only have interests. That's as it should be...

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Default US policy toward Saudi Arabia: does it need to change, and if so how?

    This issue has come up on a number of threads where it was peripheral; I though it deserved its own discussion.

    One view that’s been proposed is that Saudi Arabia is a central front in the GWOT. According to this view, decades of bad governance in Saudi Arabia combined with the perception of Western support for the Saudi government has generated an insurgent situation which expresses itself primarily externally, in the form of terrorist attacks and support for insurgents and anti-Western forces in other countries. This view holds as well that popular resentment toward the Saudi government fuels and enables insurgencies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and others.

    According to this view, the US badly needs to revise its policy toward Saudi Arabia, acting as a mediator between the Saudi Government and its own populace and visibly pressing for reforms, thereby appropriating the al Qaeda agenda.

    I could describe this argument in more detail and quote from previous posts, but those who support it are more than able to speak for themselves.

    My own view is somewhat different. First, I would question the assumption that the Saudi populace is in a state of insurgency or near-insurgency. There’s no doubt that radical Islamic political beliefs have some quite fanatical adherents in Saudi Arabia, but I see no evidence that the populace at large is on the verge of insurgency.

    It seems to me that much of our thinking on Saudi Arabia remains mired in the 1990s, when the oil glut was driving severe economic stress and the US military presence, which continued long after it was necessary, provided a convenient scapegoat. This was the environment that drove the preaching of the “three sheiks”, the radical preachers that provided much of the AQ narrative.

    Today’s situation in Saudi Arabia is very different. The massive influx of cash from 5 years of high oil prices has been largely invested domestically, with very visible results. The substance of what one might call the “three sheiks narrative” has collapsed. The sheiks, and AQ, claimed that the US would never leave Saudi Arabia, that Americans would convert Saudis to Christianity, corrupt the women, violate the holy places. They claimed that the US would never allow a fair price for oil, would end up taking control of the oil, would never allow Arabs to prosper, would never treat Arabs with respect. All of these claims are now obviously false and completely useless.

    This change is reflected in the content of AQ communications. The 1990s communiqués, most notably Osama’s declaration of jihad, revolve almost entirely around Saudi Arabia; issues such as Palestine are barely mentioned. In the recent releases Palestine takes center stage; the most recent tape does not even mention Saudi Arabia. The implication is that AQ has already lost Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and they know it.

    The great irony here is that the rise of China and the surge in oil prices have severely trimmed US power, but they have also given AQ a groin chop from which they may not recover. The surge in oil prices does not seem likely to abate any time soon; prosperity is not conducive to rebellion and the AQ narrative is not very appealing while Gulf Arabs are rolling in cash and receiving deferential (sometimes groveling) treatment from Western leaders.

    I do not believe that AQ enables the Iraqi and Afghan insurgencies; I would suggest that AQ is enabled by these insurgencies. Very few Iraqis or Afghans fight because of what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, they fight because of what’s happening in their own countries. The Saudi situation may motivate some foreign fighters, but foreign fighters are hardly the core problem. AQ thrives on the “resistance to foreign intervention” narrative, which provides it credibility that it’s anti-Saudi narrative never gained.

    Even if it were desirable for us to promote reform in Saudi Arabia, our ability to do so is quite limited. The Saudis do not depend on us, and we have neither carrots nor sticks to guide their behaviour. On the contrary, they have quite a significant capacity to guide ours: they have oil, and their investments in our economy provide a badly needed support. They certainly don’t need our money, and they face no immediate military threat. If they were threatened – say by Iran – we would come to their aid in any event, simply because it would be in our interest to do so.

    I also doubt that our intervention is sought or desired by the Saudi populace, which would probably see any attempt to intervene as further evidence of inappropriate influence, and would likely assume that we were pursuing our own interests rather than theirs.

    A good deal more could be said, and probably will be. All other views welcome...

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default What the General said

    Dayuhan,

    I suppose what General Petraeus says is indicative, in a speech in London on the 18th September 2009:

    Meanwhile, in the Arabian Peninsula, we have seen important signs of progress against Al-Qaida and extremist organisations, with the exception of Yemen that is. The progress in this arena is especially significant to the United States and Europe because of the extensive political and commercial connections we have with the Gulf states and because of the concerns we’ve had over the years about the growth of extremism on the Peninsula and its transnational nature. It is hugely significant, therefore, that Saudi Arabia has virtually eliminated Al-Qaida from its territories, though the attack on Deputy Minister of Interior Mohammed Bin-Naif was unsettling, to be sure. That notwithstanding, the kingdom has implemented an impressive and effective comprehensive counter-extremist programme.
    From: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/news/news.cgi?id=749

    The other issue that few seem to raise publically is the external role of Saudi agencies in promoting their version of Islam and the number of scholars studying there. Other threads may have touched upon this and IIRC reference was made to Saudi funding appearing in parts of Nigeria.

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    This, I think, will be of concern in the next few years.

    ...

    In July, Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the Taliban was reaping the bulk of its revenue from donors abroad, especially from the Persian Gulf.

    Other U.S. officials have noted that the Taliban received substantial financial help from Gulf countries during the 1990s, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- along with Pakistan -- were the only nations that gave diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government ...

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default UAE state's stance is

    Tequila,

    It is worthy of note that the UAE contributes to ISAF. IIRC Special Forces at one point. ISAF's webpage shows 25 troops: http://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/placemat.pdf

    As always there are different aspects to their role: a 2007 report of a defector: http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2...138362757.html and a 2008 BBC report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7318731.stm

    There are no Saudi troops in ISAF.

    davidbfpo
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-06-2009 at 07:31 PM. Reason: Add links

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    http://news.yahoo.com/ny-judge-al-qa...002608127.html

    I recommend we send this bill to the King.

    It was due to our policy of preserving his family in power that created the causal linkage between his oppressive regime at home and the decision of a handful of Saudi insurgents working with AQ to attack the US to advance their ultimate goal of bringing the Saudi reign down.

    Now, granted, that is an arrangement that US officials entered into and sustained of their own free will; but the only thing we seem less willing to do than recognize the role of Saudi governance in the birth and growth of AQ, is to recognize the role of US-Saudi foreign policy in the same.
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default This mostly indicates how little Gen Petraeus understands this problem

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Dayuhan,

    I suppose what General Petraeus says is indicative, in a speech in London on the 18th September 2009:



    From: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/news/news.cgi?id=749

    The other issue that few seem to raise publically is the external role of Saudi agencies in promoting their version of Islam and the number of scholars studying there. Other threads may have touched upon this and IIRC reference was made to Saudi funding appearing in parts of Nigeria.

    davidbfpo
    What the governments of the Arabian Peninsula have been doing under the guise of "counter-extremist" programs are in fact ramped up efforts to suppress those members of their populaces who dare to challenge what are widely recognized as some of the most oppressive regimes on the planet.

    We have spun this problem in terms favorable to the US and these dodgy allies by branding these revolutionaries as "extremists" or "terrorists" or "radical islamists" or any of a wide range of disparaging terms. This is what governments do. The fact that Yemen is the best physical terrain to hide in from one's government leads various insurgent members from a number of states to flee to their for physical santuary. The fact that the rural tribes of Yemen are equally oppressed and dissatisfied with their own government provides a populace base for this sanctuary as well. Of course AQ goes to Yemen as well to conduct their UW campaign to support these nationalist insurgent movements.

    We need to set our Kool-Aid down and step back and put all of the intel products we are using to drive our thinking under a strategic microscope and as free from the bias of our relationships with the governments of the region and our concern over interests related to oil and access to critical sea lanes that oil and other commodities travel through as well. These things are important, vitally so. But we must evolve in our approaches to securing them.

    Propping up friendly despots is obsolete. Just because we have done it for generations does not mean it cannot be obsolete now.

    The US applied an offical policy of ethnic cleansing to the Native Americans; we now recognize that as obsolete in the current environment.

    The US applied an offical policy of slavery to develop the agriculture of the South; we now recognize that as obsolete in the current environment.

    Similarly the US applied an offical policy of adopting and sustaining a collection of despots in power throughout our colonial and cold war eras to help secure our interests; we need to now recognize this apporach as obsolete as well.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default

    Also worth considering here are the strong parallels between the US relationship today with the Saudi family and that we had with the Shah of Iran in the early 70s.

    There too we balanced the extreme amount of capital we were shipping to the Shah in exchange for Iranian oil with massive sales of military hardware.

    There too the Shah (with no help from us, not needed, just as the Saudis do not need our help in this mission so long as the people remain cowed) acted ruthlessly to keep an extremely oppressed and insurgent populace in check with one hand, while he entertained US dignitaries in opulent excess with the other.

    There too, as late as 1977 the DIA predicted that the Shah would remain strongly in power for at least another 10 years; as I suspect estimates for the Saudi family are at least as bold.

    But in such a powder keg of oppression it only takes a spark, and with Arab spring burning brightly all around the Kingdom, such sparks are easily found.

    These were and are complex and important relationships. We bite off our nose today to spite our faces over our anger and embarrassment at being rebuked by the Iranians over 30 years ago; can we afford risking a similar 30 plus years of national sour grapes when (and it is when, not if) the Saudis meet their come uppence from their populace as well?? We need to work to get straight with the governments AND the populace of both of these important nations sooner than later.

    All I have ever advocated is that we need to focus less on attacking and defeating symptoms, and spend more energy focusing on repairing the flawed dysfunctional relationships that I see as the causal roots of those same symptoms. So what if I am wrong, what do we lose by getting straight with our own professed principles? Nothing. We can begin to repair our reputation in the region, and an honorable reputation is a hard commodity to put a price on.

    We Americans can be generous and honorable and self-less to a fault; we can also be self-serving, callus, arrogant and petulant. The problem is that sometimes we act like the latter while seeing ourselves as the former. We can be better than this. We are better than this. But the first step to getting better is to recognize we have a problem and to take responsibility for our actions that contributed to bringing us here.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    The comparison with the Shah of Iran is I think a bit strained. To an American it seems absurd and incomprehensible, but throughout the Gulf, even when there's criticism of a monarch, there's enormous respect for the monarchy, which is widely perceived as having inherent traditional legitimacy. That respect isn't universal - nothing in a populace ever is - but it's very widespread and is a real factor. A ruler who claims traditional power without actual blood right (the Shah) or rulers such as a Mubarak or a Saddam, who simply seized power, are seen as fundamentally different from a true traditional ruler. To us they're all just despots, but the distinction is meaningful in these places.

    I've never noted any great enthusiasm for the idea of democracy in the Gulf, except among a few western-educated individuals, most of whom tend to keep it quiet. There's a very widespread perception that democracy would bring chaos and open the door for foreign domination. In much of the Gulf it's simply taken as a given that the American enthusiasm for promoting democracy is a vehicle for gaining power: the CIA would manipulate the elections (the ability to do so is presumed) and reduce them to US puppets.

    It's easy to say this, and it sounds good:

    We need to work to get straight with the governments AND the populace of both of these important nations sooner than later.
    but when you get down to specifics, it always seems to presume influence that we haven't got, and to involve a level of interference in domestic affairs that's likely to be seen as unacceptable by both government and populace.

    The cold war paradigm of dictators that are dependent on the US is not applicable here: these despots do not depend on us, and our influence over them is very limited. They are not client states and we cannot dictate policy changes or exert substantial influence over domestic policy. Neither governments nor populaces want us meddling in their domestic policies, no matter how high-minded our declared objectives are. These are peer-peer relationships, and if we treat them as patron-client relationships we will achieve nothing and antagonize everyone in the picture.

    Meddling in the past hasn't given good results, but the answer to bad meddling isn't good meddling, the answer to bad meddling is less meddling. That won't change perceptions overnight, but neither will anything else. Attempts at good meddling will just reinforce the perception of self-interested interference: no matter what we say we're trying to accomplish, our actions will be interpreted as a self-interested attempt to gain control.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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