Time for the Saudis?

Staff Columnist

“Now is the time for Saudi Arabia to man up.”

“There is broad agreement that the black-clad savages of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham pose a profound threat first to neighboring Arab regimes and only then to Europe and the United States.  Yet amid the debate over how a reluctant U.S. or timid Europe should respond, there is no discussion of what Saudi Arabia should do.  This is a remarkable omission that ought to shame the Saudis.”      (It’s Time for the Saudis to Stand Up, by Karen Elliott House in the Wall Street Journal, Friday, August 29, 2014)

I suppose that we all have our opinions on the Middle East and on the Saudis – or no opinion at all.  That’s understandable. For those of us who have lived and worked in the Kingdom, even long ago, images of strength and resolve come to mind.  I was there in the days of value-added industries planned and built to make relevant the vast wealth taken from beneath desert sands.  In those days the military connection with the United States was obvious but understated.  I recall that on the Gulf (that’s the Arabian Gulf) coast at Jubail there were rudimentary air defense installations.  These sat on the beach-front down he street from my small room.  I never saw anyone, Saudi or American, exercise or maintain these weapons.  The Iranians are just over the horizon.  The Saudi Coast Guard’s idea of coastal security was a chain link fence.  They thought first of smugglers. That has all changed – for the better.

MS. House, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal continues, “Saudi Arabia is the wealthiest country in the region.  It has by far the largest air force, equipped with hundreds of U.S. and British advanced fighter aircraft.  [ The Saudis by their own estimates have at least 250 combat-ready aircraft, refueling planes, the U.S. Airborne Warning and Control System, and at least 2,000 air-force personnel.]  With its oil reserves and stature as the birthplace of Islam, the kingdom is an inevitable target for the rolling brigades of ISIS.”

“Moreover, the Saudis have ample reason not to want to be seen again as wards of the West, a fragile society requiring military protection from America which, under the Obama administration, may well not provide it.  So why aren’t well-trained Saudi pilots flying bombing runs over Mosul or against ISIS command and control centers in Syria?  The problem is a failure of will even in pursuit of their own interests.”

Those FA-18 Hornets you hear about striking targets in Irag represent a projection of American National power from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf or Mediterranean.

More from the Journal Opinion Page, “The House of Saud, which has ruled the kingdom off and on for more than 270 years, historically has survived by ducking and weaving, by seeking to avoid confrontations while trying to satisfy everyone.  As a result the kingdom has been reliant on others – essentially the U.S. – for its security.  An ostrich strategy may no longer be viable.  Given President Obama’s ducking and weaving on Syria and his cozying up to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s Shiite nemesis, the Saudis have ample grounds to conclude that the U.S. cannot be counted on as a reliable protector.”

“ISIS also poses a fundamental challenge to the House of Saud’s legitimacy as ruler of Saudi Arabia.  Since the 18th century, the Al  Saud kings have justified their rule by claiming to be the protector and promoter of the one true Islam – the austere version preached by Muhammad ibin Abd al Wahhab, who joined forces with Al Saud to conquer Arabia and return it to the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad.  Now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander of ISIS declares the creation of an Islamic caliphate, in essence branding Saudi Arabia and the Al Saud as usurpers and himself as the protector of true Islam.”

“ISIS is thus a clear threat and the need to confront it is inevitable.”

And, “King Abdullah, like President Obama, has so far been long on talk

And short on action.  Earlier this month he criticized religious scholars for their ‘laziness’ and ‘silence’ in failing to condemn ISIS terrorists.  He called on Muslim leaders and scholars to ‘carry out their duty toward Allah Almighty and stand in the face of those trying to hijack Islam and (present) it to the world as a religion of extremism, hatred and terrorism.’  Weeks later the Saudi Grand Mufti, its senior religious scholar finally declared that ‘extremism, radicalism and terrorism’ have ‘nothing to do with Islam and are enemy Number One of Islam.”

These words are on target.  The Kingdom’s only action so far is reported to be the donation of $100 million to a United Nations Counterterrorism Center – a move not likely to slow ISIS down.  Meanwhile the Saudi Air Force sits grounded.  This is a force that the United States has0been helping to modernize.  Indeed, some of this training is accomplished at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas.

Ms. House concluded, “Now is the time to confront ISIS in Syria, not cower in Riyadh.”  That seems a bit harsh in my view.

I do, however agree that it is time for our Saudi ally to contribute to the coming fight.  They are more than capable.

Update -On the day of the President’s  speech to the Nation about ISIS Secretary of State Kerry was in Iraq and reported on his way to Saudi Arabia seeking support for a coalition to enter into this fight.  The President was reported to have been on the phone with the Saudi King to press these requests.  I did NOT hear Obama mention Saudi Arabia on Wednesday evening.


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