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Memo to Saudi Arabia: Start fighting the Islamic State or stop benefitting from our friendship

I suppose we should CC Israel on that memo too. Pat Buchanan takes stock of the Syrian Civil War today and notes the curious stance taken by our so-called allies:

Assad has been written off before, only to survive those who predicted his demise. But given the balance of forces and the way in which the tide of battle is turning, it is hard to see how his regime and army can long resist eventual collapse.

Arrayed against him are not only the Nusra Front and ISIS, which are attracting recruits from abroad, but also Turks, Saudis, and Gulf Arabs, who have been clandestinely aiding Sunni rebels we regard as terrorists. Though the Turks have a half-million-man army, 3,000 tanks, 1,000 military aircraft, and are 60 miles from the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria, our NATO ally refuses to move. Turkey’s president sees Assad as an ally of Iran.

The Israelis, too, see Assad as an ally of Iran and a greater enemy than an ISIS or Nusra Front with no army to threaten Israel. They have been aiding Syrian rebels on the Golan. Israeli ambassador Michael Oren said in 2013, “We always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” Fine, but the “bad guys” Ambassador Oren prefers have on their hands the blood of 3,000 Americans.

In fact, I’d argue Buchanan doesn’t go far enough. By shipping weapons willy-nilly into the Syria in a clumsy attempt to arm the rebels and destroy Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs bear responsibility for the Islamic State. It should be noted too that plenty of Saudis have emigrated to Syria and Iraq to join the fight under the black flag. The maniacal jihadists trying to carpet the Middle East in Sharia are Frankenstein monsters and the Gulf should be dutifully working to destroy them.

Only they’re not. They’re fighting the sectarian battles of old—smashing the daylights out of Yemen in an attempt to destroy the Houthis, coordinating with al Qaeda to attack Assad, and generally trying to stifle Shia-majority Iran wherever possible. The history of Saudi Arabia in the war on terror has been one of posturing against Sunni extremist groups like al Qaeda while focusing on its own sectarian struggles.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. America sees the Middle East as bifurcated between moderates and extremists, while the Gulf states draw the line between Sunnis and Shias. If Saudi Arabia wants to pursue its own national interest by pummeling Tehran’s proxies first, second, third, and ISIS thirtieth (even as ISIS sows chaos in Saudi Arabia too), it’s free to do so. But it should be straight with America about its intentions.

It won’t because it understands that its alliance with the United States is lucrative. Saudi Arabia struck nearly $80 billion in arms deals with Washington between 1950 and 2006, with tens of billions more added since then. Those weapons have propped up the otherwise unremarkable Kingdom, making it the biggest arms importer and the fourth biggest military buyer in the world, and arming it with one of the globe’s most fearsome militaries.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are theocratically governed cesspools for human rights and incubators for terrorism. Yet while America refuses to do business with Iran, it’s essentially built the Saudi military. Now President Obama finds himself leaning closer to Iran, as Tehran-backed Shiite fighters wage war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Iran’s motivations, like Saudi Arabia, are largely sectarian in nature, but they’re nevertheless aligned with ours at a time when “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has great allure in the Middle East.

We don’t need to spurn the Gulf states or behave belligerently towards them. But we should make it clear through diplomatic channels that right now they’re out of sync with the United States, despite being the beneficiaries of our largesse. The Gulf’s (and Israel’s) fixation on foiling Iran just isn’t where America is right now. And given how much they rely on us, that’s unacceptable.

In 1990, America fought Saudi Arabia’s war by kicking Saddam Hussein out of neighboring Kuwait. Now it’s time for Saudi Arabia to fight our war by cracking down on ISIS.

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