August 26, 2003

A Positive Development from Riyadh

A Positive Development from Riyadh

Saudi Arabia ratchets up cooperation with U.S. authorities in meaningful fashion. This is the latest development in an increasingly convincing crackdown on Islamic extremists operating in that country.

More than the lame flypaper thesis bandied about the blogosphere--I suspect a good number of Saudi fanatics are fleeing to Iraq to escape apprehension near as much as to pursue the jihad. Noted terrorism expert Peter Bergen agrees per his TPM interview--and also explains that most jihadis are not pouring in from Syria or Jordan.

That said, some are doubtless getting in from all these countries as Deputy Secretary Armitage has stated. Josh Marshall asks what Armitage's grouping of Saudi with Syria and Iran mean in terms of the latter's statement that, while the borders are porous and he has no evidence that any of Teheran, Damascus or Riyadh are aware or assisting said movements, those governments are certainly not stopping said individuals at the border with alacrity.

I agree with Marshall that grouping Iran and Syria with Saudi Arabia is a signal to Saudi that, despite their crackdown, we want more out of them--ie, better monitoring of their border to stop the jihadis. (Note: I disgree with Marshall that we have recently, whether explictly or not, threatened military action on Syria. Some think-tankers at places like AEI may have, but no one in the Administration since the night goggle episode during the Iraq war when Rummy put pressure on Damascus from the Pentagon podium).

And the reason that a careful, seasoned diplomat like Armitage would group an ally like Saudi Arabia with a rogue state like Iran, even if only in such a highly specific context, signals to me that most of the infiltrators are coming in from Saudi. Syria is boxed in right now among an unfriendly Turkey, U.S. occupied Iraq, highly Western-oriented Jordan, and Israel.

They aren't looking for a fight. Providing a passe-partout to jihadis is an action even an unseasoned Bashar Assad is unlikely to take. Remember too that the Syrian regime is secular. Bashar's father Hafez Assad brutally cracked down, in 1982, on the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, likely killing over 20,000. Religious extremists are a threat to Bashar's nascent and unsteady authority.

Iran, meanwhile, is concentrating on getting her nuke program up and running. Through a mixture of feigned cooperation with nuclear watchdogs, guile, and surreptitious advancement of the program--they hope to gain nuclear capability within the coming years. Best to keep a low profile then, Iranian leaders likely calculate. Thus Iranian troublemaking in Iraq has been relatively de minimis--at least to date.

That leaves Saudi. I'd be very interested in seeing a breakdown on the nationalities of the foreign jihadis the coalition apprehends and/or kills in Iraq (if anyone has seen such figures please contact me). My guess is that the majority, by a healthy margin, are Saudis. And part of the reason they are getting in is likely that the Saudi government, given the highly charged domestic environment (particularly given the crackdown on Islamic militants), is all too happy to deal with the problem cheaply in terms of blood and treasure. In other words, if they get to Iraq, they are the coalition's problem.

Thus Armitage is signalling that Riyadh make all best efforts to apprehend Saudi extremists on their side of the border. So people like Prince Bandar will get the coded message from Armitage--we don't normally put you guys in the same camp as Iran and Syria. We take this very seriously. Help us deal with it asap. Yeah we appreciate your other "crackdown" efforts including the one made public today. But we want fuller cooperation.


Posted by Gregory at August 26, 2003 05:40 PM
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