Clark Proposes Fighting Al Qaeda with the Saudis

Emma Goldman has has a post up on her blog, Notes on the Atrocities, on Wesley Clark’s proposal to team with the Saudis to fight Al Qaeda. She says:

Wes Clark wants to team with the Saudis to defeat Al Qaida. Hmmm. I’ll admit that when I was in school, I was generally reading about Tolstoy and Mahavira–not foreign policy. That said, I’m pretty sure this is a really bad idea. Let’s start with the obvious: what is the best-case outcome? The Saudis are going to root out Osama? Apparently, that’s what Clark is thinking:

General Clark said the joint United States-Saudi commando force would be similar to groups formed by the American military and police forces in Colombia while he oversaw United States military operations in Latin America.

Again: hmmm. Columbia’s our model for success with this scheme? I’m still not seeing the wisdom.

The way I see it, there are only downsides. Al Qaida’s main target was initially the Saudis, whom Osama thought were traitors to his brand of Wahabism. As Afghanistan and Iraq fester with the gangrene of terror, I don’t see how teaming up with the Saudis helps the situations there. But far worse is that joining with the Saudis completely undermines the US’s stated goal of bringing Democracy to the region. It reeks of political expediency at the risk of long term consequences. If the US is genuinely concerned about fostering democracy in the region, it needs to team with nations at least inclined in that direction. The Saudis are probably last on that list, behind even Iran. She makes a valid point. Saudi Arabia may be our biggest oil provider and best friend in the region (tell me again how those two things aren’t connected), but it’s also a horrendous despotism with a long history of supporting Arab terrorists with both money and weapons. Clark is probably figuring that the Saudis’ attitude is about to change now that they’ve become targets, and there’s something to be said for that pov, but it’s a dangerous game.

Arab govts like the Saudis tend to play both ends against the middle, maintaining lines into all opposing camps as a matter of policy. On top of that, the various players at high levels of the Saudi regime have vastly differing agendas and it’s extremely difficult to tell who’s on which side at any given moment–much more difficult than in Columbia. Where in Columbia the players’ loyalties and allegiances are well-known and switching sides is unusual, in Saudi Arabia–as in other Arab govts–alliances shift constantly with the changing winds; an enemy today could be a friend tomorrow and vice versa. It’s difficult for a native to keep track of, impossible for a foreigner who didn’t grow up in that atmosphere.

This raises the specter of a scenario in which the tactics and strategies of anti-terrorist forces would have to be shared with people whose allegiance couldn’t be taken for granted; vital information (the Middle East is a sieve) could easily make its back-channel way to the very groups that are the target of an operation, frustrating if not disemboweling the whole enterprise. That isn’t a reason not to make the attempt, but it should give one pause.

Nothing in the Middle East is as easy as it might look. A joint effort with Saudi Arabia may look good on paper, but the reality is that the Saudi govt has been and remains riddled with terrorist sympathizers, and–as Emma points out–playing footsie with a dictatorial regime tends to give our insistence that we want to promote democracy in the area a black-eyed ring of hypocrisy.

This certainly isn’t enough to make me decide not to vote for him, but it sure is sufficient grounds for hesitation. What’s he thinking?

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