Hillary Clinton thought Saudi Arabia was funding ISIS—and that’s not even the worst of it AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, right, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad Al-Sabah chat prior to a group photo before a US- Gulf Cooperation Council forum at the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, March 31, 2012. Secretary Clinton is visiting the region to speak with leaders about local and global issues including Iran as well as attend talks aimed at ending the violence by the Assad regime towards its citizens in Syria.(AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

The link between the Islamic State and our great and glorious ally Saudi Arabia has long been a tenuous one. We can say for certain that the Saudis spread Wahhabist Islam, funded puritanical mosques in Afghanistan, bankrolled terrorism in Pakistan, abetted al-Qaeda in Yemen, refused to crack down on jihadist donors within their borders, and generally acted as midwife, incubator, and daycare center for Sunni extremism throughout the Middle East for decades. But can they be directly connected to ISIS? The answer has seemed to be a soft “no.”

At least until now. The Daily Caller reports:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton sent an email to her campaign chairman John Podesta in 2014, who was then-counselor to President Barack Obama, that said Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both giving financial and logistical support to the Islamic State and other extremist Sunni groups, according to a recent Wikileaks release. …

“While this military/para-military operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region,” Clinton wrote.

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Even made in private, that’s an explosive charge, given that Saudi Arabia is an American ally and putative co-combatant in the war on terror. Could Secretary Clinton have been wrong, like she was about Libya and email security? It’s certainly possible, but this also fits with what we know about Saudi Arabia, which has wielded Sunni jihadism as a cudgel against Iranian and Shiite power since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Riyadh’s philosophy is that so long as Sunni extremists are operating outside their borders, the Saudi state itself will remain safe. This is why they’re forever announcing arrests of ISIS cells at home while doing little to fight terrorism abroad.

So it’s perfectly plausible that Clinton, privy to certain intelligence as secretary of state, was correct and our second-best buddy in the Middle East really is funding ISIS. Yet Clinton still let the American-Saudi alliance go undented and the Clinton Foundation still took donations from the Saudis and Qataris. If she’s elected, expect another four years of insanity on foreign policy.

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Aiding the Islamic State is a scandalous offense, but in terms of overall geopolitical damage, it’s not even the worst thing Saudi Arabia is doing right now. For years, the Saudis have backed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria before it declared independence a few months back—no act of moderation, the group remains just as jihad-crazed as ever. In contrast to ISIS’s Tarantino-esque gore, Fatah al-Sham is craftier, winning Syrian hearts and minds by setting up food drives and medical centers. It’s currently the single most powerful faction of the rebellion, with which it’s been coordinating for years. It’s also designated as a terrorist group by the United States.

Fatah al-Sham’s sly burrowing into the Syrian landscape constitutes a far more perilous long-term threat than ISIS’s flash-in-the-pan atrocities. And the Saudis were aiding this group even back when it was still affiliated with al-Qaeda. Our next president needs to apply pressure on Riyadh and put a stop to this. She won’t.

Matt Purple About the author:
Matt Purple is the Deputy Editor for Rare Politics. Follow him on Twitter @MattPurple
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