Punish Saudi Arabia, but Don’t Jettison the Alliance

Oct. 18 2018

It now seems clear that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was abducted and killed by Saudi officials, although whether his death was deliberate is an open question. Yet now is not the time for Washington to jettison its longstanding, and often troublesome, alliance with Riyadh, writes Sohrab Ahmari:

What the Saudis did to Khashoggi was awful and appalling. The Saudis do lots of other awful and appalling things, too. Beheadings. Judicial amputation. Discrimination against the Shiite minority. Outright bans on the practice of religions other than Islam. The global promotion of an especially literal and intolerant brand of Sunni Islam. All of this was well known before Khashoggi walked into the consular trap the Saudis set for him.

Even so, Saudi Arabia isn’t a sworn, systemic enemy of the U.S. or the American-led order in the Middle East. Saudis don’t actively wage war against our forces and interests in the region. Their state is not founded on the mantra of “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to Britain” (that would be the Islamic Republic of Iran, Riyadh’s archenemy). Washington can’t afford to make another enemy in a part of the world that is already full of them. Remember, too, that if the Saudis can be terrible friends, they can be even worse enemies.

[Moreover], isolating Saudi Arabia would almost certainly doom the diplomatic rapprochement between Jerusalem and Riyadh, among the most astonishing—and welcome—global developments in recent years. . . .

None of this is to suggest that Saudi authorities should be allowed to get away with murdering Khashoggi at their consulate on foreign soil. That would set an unacceptable precedent, all but guaranteeing open season on dissident journalists in a region where they are already an endangered species. But the Western response must be measured. We must be mindful that a cruel order is still better than disorder, that a bitter friendship is still better than enmity and friendlessness, and that no Jeffersonian democrats are waiting in the wings among the Saudis.

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More about: Israel-Arab relations, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Wahhabism

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey