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Using the U.S.-Saudi Alliance to Keep Radical Islam out of India and Indonesia

Aug. 29 2017

Saudi Arabia spends some $4 billion annually to support mosques, imams, and religious schools abroad that uniformly teach the radical, fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. In part thanks to these expenditures, Muslim communities across the globe have grown more stringent in their beliefs and practices. So ingrained is Riyadh’s commitment to Wahhabism, writes Max Singer, that a major reversal cannot be expected. But U.S. pressure can still pay off:

One of the effects of the success [of Saudi-funded evangelism] has been a great increase in support within Muslim communities for Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe Islam is obligated to be at war with the infidel world and/or that the West is trying to destroy Islam. Obviously, the Saudi-funded program is not the only reason for this dangerous radicalization of the Muslim public, but it has been an important contributor.

The leaders of the Saudi royal family . . . and the Saudi government do not believe the Islamist war against the West is good for Saudi Arabia, and they are strongly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamist organization. So why do they spend so much money exporting Wahhabism?

Two reasons. First, they started the program in 1979 after the Islamic revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran. The Saudis felt they could not afford to allow Khomeini and the Shiites to dominate Islamic radicalism; a separate Sunni radical movement was needed to compete with Iranian influence. Second, their domestic political position was based on their long-term alliance with . . . powerful Wahhabi clerics. . . .

The U.S. cannot convince the Saudi leadership to stop spending so much money on exporting radical Islam around the world, because the program has too much domestic support. But now that the U.S. is working with the Saudi government against the Shiite challenge from Iran, Saudi leaders might be amenable to a suggestion about a fairly small change in their program that could make a big difference—particularly as they are at least somewhat ambivalent about some of the effects of that program.

The U.S. should urge the Saudis to drop Indonesia and India from the payroll. . . . So far, the Muslim communities of Indonesia and India—together over 400 million people, or close to one quarter of all the Muslims in the world—have not been radicalized, and both communities contain significant sources of resistance to radicalization by Arab groups. . . . These countries can be towering examples that Muslims can move into the modern world while continuing to be loyal to Islam. Their example could ultimately be the key to the outcome of the long-term clash within the Muslim world.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: India, Indonesia, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen