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April 04, 2005


so, can i say Bush is "objectively-pro-anti-American" ?

i think i can!

There's a lot that I agree with, here, but there also are a few areas of significant disagreement. My overarching criticism would be that this is an overbroad approach that, by attempting to confront our enemies everywhere, dilutes and reduces our strength. A brief, point-by-point critique:

Continue to pursue freedom and democracy in unfree Muslim-majority countries;

Agreed. Bush's proposed MEFTZ may be a useful carrot, here.

Aggressive and confrontational diplomacy with Saudi Arabia, including spotlighting the Riyadh Three, with the goal of loosening and cutting ties from the neo-Salafis and loosening the authoritarian grip;


Gradual divestment from the Saudi economy until such progress is made;

Impractical; we need Saudi oil -- particularly in the face of new demand from China and India. Divestment is a bad idea.

An educational campaign on the Wahhabi/Qtubi branches of Islamic belief, which are root causes, in order for the public to realize what it is and the scope of its influence;

A government media campaign seems like fuzzy-duddy liberal approach (in new neocon clothes), which is sure to provoke needless controversy and divisions as we haggle over what form the education should take. It seems like a waste of money, and I'd bet on it backfiring to boot.

Pursuing Wahhabi funding sources and freezing and confiscating their money;

If there's a link to terrorism, yes. Otherwise, we'll never get the international agreements that we need.

Identifying Wahhabi-influenced organizations in America and worldwide, and taking direct action to defund and discredit them;

As above (note also the potential First Amendment issue with the Government trying to "discredit" -- through PSAs? -- a private organization based on the content of its message. If they're fomenting a terrorist cell, prosecute. Otherwise, monitor.)

Backing, with moral and financial support, the more enlightened branches of Islam;

Almost guaranteed to backfire.

Recruiting the most prominent, tolerant and enlightened imams and mullahs to issue fatwahs and pursue the Sufi, Hanafi and similar traditions, in effect helping them reform Islam from within;

Absolutely guaranteed to backfire.

Continue the full-court press on al Qaeda, and take more direct, confrontational actions against terrorist organizations like Iranian-subsidized Hezbollah;

Attack al Qaeda, yes. It's a mistake to put Hizbollah in the same camp, however -- unless we're looking to start another Civil War in Lebanon. Rather, we should countinue our practice of tacit acquiescence to Hizbollah. They, unlike al Qaeda, can be co-opted.

On Palestine-Israel, build on the January 9th election, take the necessary steps to democratize and reform the Palestinian Authority and continue to broker a two-state solution.

And (1) continue to back Sharon on his pullout from Gaza; and (2) actively dissuade further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and support the dismantling of the illegal settlements.

As Publius Pundit noted, of the eighteen most repressive regimes on earth--the nations least respectful of human rights and civil liberties mind you--six of them are on the UN Commission of Human Rights, namely China, Cuba, Eritrea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and of course Saudi Arabia. The United States and new UN ambassador John Bolton should call for their suspension or removal from the committee. As it stands right now, the commission is a pathetic joke.

Ignore this one. The Commission is a joke -- as everyone knows -- and for that reason it's not worth spending the political capital to confront it.

CB, you're absolutely right. The only problem with wishing for the fall of the House of Saud is that the only opposition likely to be able to take and hold power would be even more fanatic. While (as usual) my ignorance of Saudi politics is staggering, what little i've read suggests that it is the corruption and hypocrisy of the Saud family that is fueling domestic discontent, not their treatment of women.

If the armed forces were to stage a coup, who would take power, a democrat with a message of social justice or a theocrat promising to return to traditional values? I fear the latter seems far more likely.

Wow a useful post from Charles. To make your case a bit more airtight you should find a case of a Saudi cleric being punished by the Saudi government, ideally not for sedition, but take what you can get.

There are some Muslim clerics with convincing Koran based arguments against violent jihad and especially against suicide bombing.

There is a problem with regard to the price of oil though. Given the way Bush has been running up the debt soon $60 dollars a barrel will be too cheap. Most of the inflationary effects of the policies Bush has been pursuing have been hidden so far, but that can't continue for forever. The euro has gone from $.85 to $1.33 since Bush has been in office, and oil has gone from $28 to $56 doubling its value in just a few years. The valuations in stocks and housing show the dollars decline in real purchasing power.

I should add that I share some of von and Francis's concerns about how likely brute force solutions are to work here. But when all you have to work with is a hammer the whole world looks like nails. I sympathize with you here Charles.

Too bad someone 50 years ago didn't say: These guys are crazy. We can't do business with them. There are no good options now.

America has been deluding itself about how friendly the House of Saud is. This is not new with GWB, Saudi Arabia is not our ally and never has been. Don't look at pieces of paper, look at what they do. If our interests intersect their interests, they'll let us do what they want us to do. If not, they'll do what they like. We blew it long ago, with the first boycott, when we didn't tell them that we would not pay tribute or dance to their tune.

Freelunch- Probably true. I don't think GWB is an actual idiot, and he must have been steeped in oil politics his whole life. So the really frightening thought here is: maybe Bush is already following the best policy toward Saudi Arabia possible.

I still think Iraq was a mistake for us and probably would have been even if we had proven capable of doing a good job.

Overall a most excellent post!


Backing, with moral and financial support, the more enlightened branches of Islam;

Almost guaranteed to backfire.

What if the focus was on countries where the more enlighted branch of Islam is the majority, though? Say, oh, I don't know, Kyrgyzstan. Make a really big deal out of how Kyrgyzstan has not only repeatedly repealed Al Qaeda, but point to it again and again, in speeches and budgets, as an example of how Islam and Democracy can coincide (yes, we might wait until June to launch this particular effort, but a state-based rather than branch-based effort might be better).

One thing is sure, though, and its totally worth the risk that it might backfire: Wahhabi money needs to be regulated. I know there's still the chance of PR problems, but efforts to investigate the sources of all money sent to poorer Muslim countries, tracing it back, and very publically rejecting it if it's found to be tainted with terrorist activities could be arranged. Perhaps a clandestine trade. If a country, to whom Wahhabi money is offered, investigates and turns up evidence of terrorist ties, the US could offer a reward for that evidence equalling (or surpassing) the same amount. Schools and mosques can still be built.

Edward- Nice program. Too bad Bush thinks SS piratization is more important.

I appreciate your comments, von, but I think you're jumping the gun on what you think may backfire (bad metaphor alert!). This reminds me of the line of thinking that we couldn't push for freedom and democracy because of stability reasons. Personally, I think a large number would support our applying our policy consistently and overtly supporting those Muslims who are in the freedom/democracy camp. Boldness works. And if some of the proposals fail, what have we really lost? It's not like we're Miss Popularity over there anyway.

I'd like to echo von's concerns on the up-with-moderate-Islam campaign. There are *very* big First Amendment problems with promoting, financially or otherwise, any particular strain or strains of Islam because we think they are "moderate" or whatever. It ought not be the business of the US government to define what the parameters of "moderate" or "decent" Islam are.

Of course it is legitimate to oppose extremists who call for the murder of American and other western civilians. But they should be opposed because of their advocacy of murder, not because of the religious roots of that advocacy per se.

The next time Bin Laden attacks the US, who should we invade and occupy next?

Saudi Arabia or Syria?

All in the name of WMD and democracy of course.

By the way, an excellent article.

The Saudi Paradox
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004

Summary: Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, but its elite is bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of liberal reformers seeking rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow.

Michael Scott Doran is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

CB: what we have to lose is the world's largest supply of oil. While I try strenuously to avoid the tinfoil hat brigade, it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to figure out that our failure to prevent significant damage to Iraq's oil infrastructure limits our flexibility with Saudi Arabia.

The Taliban, once it seized power, cut off Afghanistan from the rest of the world. Can we be sure that the Wahhabis won't do the same?

Chinese central banks own a lot of US debt; the US is in debt. Who, precisely, is in better shape to deal with rapidly rising oil prices? Yes, the US will survive another oil shock. But bringing new infrastructure on line takes a long time.

Oh, and what happens if the Pakistan, which has the Bomb, falls to its extremists following their inspiration by Saudi extremists? Dominoes can topple in two directions. Theocracy seems to me to be a more likely outcome than democracy.

And if some of the proposals fail, what have we really lost? It's not like we're Miss Popularity over there anyway.

This statement, in a nutshell, exemplifies one of the principal why Charles, Rumsfeld, Feith, and their ideological ilk should never be let within shouting distance of ME policy: the inability to grasp how there's still room, to this day, for us to make things much worse over there.

Catsy, stability and nuance really worked, didn't it? You may hate the word, but the democra-nami is real and it's happening, and it didn't come from our taking soft stands.

Francis, fair points. If I understand my oil, we don't buy much directly from the Saudis. It's out there and it's fungible. China has bought a lot of our Treasury bills and so forth, but we're their biggest customer. If they hurt us, they hurt themselves even more. If Musharraf gets toppled by Islamists, it's going to hurt us whether we're opposed to the neo-Salafis or are accommodating to them. After all, we're the Great Satan. I worry most about what Arabia would look if the House of Saud went down in flames. I'd rather not see them go because the alternative could be much worse. Reform would be the best ticket, and evolving to a constitutional monarchy is better than what exists today.

Neodude's Foreign Affairs article, which I think I've skimmed at some point, points to one reason for our current Saudi Arabian policy. In some respects, I'm arguing the devil's party here, because like most Americans, I loathe monarchies and corruption, unlike many Americans, I am suspicious of our mideast policy, but like some policy-makers, I am cautious about sudden moves in such a tense region.

Abdullah is de facto head of state, as his father is basically incapacitated. He's not exactly head of state, however, which has created a perception of instability inside the country. (I'm thinking George III right now, but of course George IV was much less able than Abdullah seems to be.) Long-range predictions tend to favor Abdullah's plans: the man is moderate, reformist, reasonable, and internationalist. As a not-exactly head of state, though, Abdullah has enemies within. I'm not sure what withdrawing support from Abdullah would do, frankly. We do have both military and symbolic power in the region: changing our stance towards the house of Saud might damn it.

The signs seem clear that the most powerful alternative to the House of Saud is a movement we wouldn't like. I can understand the treading lightly around Abdullah's legitimacy. Yes, we need to smite Al-Queda where we find them. Yes, we need to alter our oil-dependancy so that the internal politics of the mideast are so personal and necessary to our national interest. Yes, we should speak out on human rights. But we should be careful in the interim of pronouncing on religious ideology within Islam. As von said, that tactic is almost guaranteed to poison anything else we attempt.

"Reform would be the best ticket, and evolving to a constitutional monarchy is better than what exists today."

Again, CB, nice sentiments, but (and I am not just trying to be contrary here), I think that the lessons of history teach us that this sort of "evolution" is precisely NOT the sort of political development that tends to happen when an absolutist-monarchical system begins to fall apart. IANAH(istorian), mind, but it seems that systems of constitutional monarchies, in those countries that have them, have typically taken several generations to develop (UK, most of Europe, Thailand - with the notable, and special exceptions of postwar Japan, and post-Franco Spain) In fact, I can think of only two instances where an absolutist monarch attempted to effect a transition to a constitutional system: Louis XVI of France in 1789, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1905: and their eventual fates (the guillotine and firing squad respectively) are scarcely reassuring to any who would hope that "evolution" can be accomplished without violent revolution.

Like some of the other commenters, I think you are right in concept, but unrealistic in expectations. Nice try though.

Another thought:

While I fear the consequences of irrational policy to Saudi Arabia, we should at least try to build some credibility there. The House of Saud may fall, and the importance of Saudi oil is too great to allow it to come under the control of anti-American theocrats. I have no doubt that any US president, republican or democrat, would land the Marines to protect the oil fields.

Since we would probably not enjoy the consequences of that little expedition, we should probably try to avoid it. And that means taking CB's points as to shaping the future of that country very seriously.

Speaking of credibility:

Via Laura Rozen

Pro-democracy, anti-US," is the headline of this Zvi Bar'el Ha'aretz article, which argues the "Arab failure to accept Israel has little to do with the absence of democracy":

The sad part of all these examples ... is that the American adminstration and Bush in particular are perceived as a scourge. Reform movements in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon or Syria, whose members are ready to be killed for democracy in their country, go berserk the moment they are accused of receiving American funds or contributions.

To attain public legitimacy, it appears that each of these movements needs an anti-American slogan in addition to the pro-democracy slogan...

The leaders of the opposition in Lebanon, who bring masses to the streets with the slogan for "liberty and democracy," are careful not to be identified as supporters of the United States. So are the reform activists in Iran.

The result borders on the absurd: To build a democracy in the Middle East, at least some reform movement leaders believe they must paint themselves with anti-American colors. One sign raised in the demonstration in Egypt said, "No to America, Yes to democracy."

Bird Dog, nice post.

I'll just echo most of von's points, with a few caveats.

1) I agree with some of the other comments that our fingerprints on direct funding of mosques would hinder legitimacy in those countries. However, I suppose it's possible to boost foreign aid, and the countries can do their own funding, but I think the radicals would still try to use that against the mosques. Another possibility would be to encourage NGO's or private individuals to take on this job. But this approach only deals with radicalism outside of the epicenters.

2) Encouraging a moderate form of Islam in, say Chechnya, isn't really needed, because historically they've been Sufis. If you kill the radicals, they'll be just fine. For those who aren't Sufis, etc., the problem is a little trickier. I don't believe you can convert millions of people to other sects. The only thing that will resonate with them is a fatwa from Al Azhar or Islamic U. in Medina.

3) I don't believe there is much we can do but offer encouragement to those who try to reform the Salafi/Wahhabi sects. IMO, you need to separate those who are trying to kill us from those who's ideas are merely repugnant. Before I get jumped on, let me explain.
The Muslim Brotherhood has a large presence in Egypt, yet there is not a great deal of terrorism. Why? I would submit that the most radical members have joined Islamic Jihad,etc.
I would also point out that though a majority of Saudis follow Wahhabism, the masses haven't heeded the call of OBL and overthrown the House of Saud.
Even though we don't agree with someone's worldview, we need to be careful that we don't push them past the tipping point, from gradually wanting to change society, to picking up the sword.

This problem within Islam will have to be dealt with mainly by Muslims, as some Saudis are doing by fisking.

Here's some link's to counterbalance the Doran article.


Cordesman pdf

The passion many folks across the world have for justice, did not appear after 9-11, nor did it show-up when WMD and Al-Queda links disapeared. Many Bushite Zelot's desire to make George the pontiff of liberty and democracy reveals a naive understanding of justice.

Actual justice is usually more important than the rhetoric of Revolutionay Democratists of the Republican Party.

That should have been:

Revolutionay Democratists in the Republican Party.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has a large presence in Egypt, yet there is not a great deal of terrorism. Why? I would submit that the most radical members have joined Islamic Jihad,etc."

Nope; there are several reasons. One is that the regime killed the Islamists or through them in jail. Two is that Gama'a Islamiyyah screwed up and killed a bunch of nice Swiss tourists in Luxor in 1997, which devastated the economy and made the radicals anathema. The have eschewed violence ever since. As for Islamic Jihad, they were broke and busted after one of their big players got caught in Albania, and IJ joined w/ Bin Laden and gave up on attacking the regime directly because they lost and ran out of money. The Taba Hilton bombing is still worrisome to me, but aside from that, the Egyptian gov't has defeated its militant problem. The key now will be whether to incorporate the MB into mainstream politics, so that its more radical members don't start embracing violence again. Egypt really ought to be thinking about deconcentrating power, federalizing, etc.

the democra-nami is real and it's happening, and it didn't come from our taking soft stands.

that's too bad. cause it would at least help explain the soft stands we take towards Saudi Arabia and Pakistan .

that's too bad. cause it would at least help explain the soft stands we take towards Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

Well, I mostly support our "soft stand" on Pakistan because they have nukes and the alternative to Musharraf is too unpalatable. I think we are too soft on the House of Saud. I don't want them out (again, the alternative could be much, much worse), but we haven't pressured them much at all to reform.


We could always invade and occupy them.

It would be like World War 2!

Charles and Ed --

With respect to promoting moderate Islam: It may be that we're talking past each other to a certain extent. I'm all in favor of promoting economic reforms (for instance) to encourage openness and democratization. For instance, I support making movements to a MEFTZ -- one that would include Lebanon, Jordan, Morrocco, Turkey, even Syria, etc. -- but include as a pre-requisite a reform requirement. What I think is counterproductive would be funding particular clerics or Mosques, or essentially "endorsing" this or that brand of Islam.

If you're talking more about the former than the latter, well, I'm on board. But I read Charles, at least, to be endorsing the latter.

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