Owls say "who?" Hawks say "how?"

While reading the National Review Online‘s blog, The Corner, I came across this entry by Lisa Schiffren – Pak help for Afghan “militants” is old news – and I must admit that it set me off:

The CIA has known all this forever. Nonetheless, the Agency made a deal with ISI early in the 1980s, which led to funneling covert US money for the Afghan resistance through ISI. Our choices may have been limited back then, but it didn’t take long for the folly of the policy to be clear to the few who were watching.

While I replied with unwarranted self-righteousness, I couldn’t let the underlying hypocrisy go unchallenged. What follows is a very lively discussion with Lisa and Stephen Schwartz that I think you will find interesting and informative.

From: r hampton
To: Lisa S
Subject: RE: Pak help for Afghan “militants” is old news

NRO has been part of a very concerted, aggressive effort by self-proclaimed “hawks” of hyper-foucsing on Iran as THE evil in the middle east (e.g. the daily Iran bulletins in the Corner). Sadly, Saudi Arabia – the other-half of evil, who funds Al Qaeda & Hamas, exports Wahhabi radicalism, and extracts Aermican wealth by the hundreds of billions – has benefited from a simultaneous good-will campaign by the very same “hawks” in the guise of a half-assed apologetic. Oh sure, NRO will post the occasional token article criticizing the KSA (see Schwartz, Steyn, et al) but the Editors are on record with a public confession complete with justifications for hand-wringing (“The Saudis and Us“, the Editors, August 10, 2007).

But their government too is a target of Islamic extremists, and we do not have the luxury of pushing away any allies in the struggle against Iran.

So let’s cut to the chase with the Pakistani ISI story, shall we? Two words, one country, and no answers from the likes of you. For shame. For damned shame!

P.S. I can’t wait to read about NRO’s coverage of the feigned shock concerning Dr. A.Q. Khan, Warzistan’s autonomy, and the spread of extremist Madrassas.

From: Lisa S
To: r hampton

What is your point? That Saudi Arabia is a bad actor there too. I think we know that. I have no brief for the Saudis. I do understand that you can’t always choose your allies. But I certainly think we should keep them on a short leash, not sell them our arsenal, and demand that they cease their wahabi education efforts outside their own territory. We can’t make Pakistan reject their money or their conditions, though. And we can’t make a bunch of dirt poor, uneducated Muslims reject the education and ideology that they offer. What would you do?

From: r hampton
To: Lisa S

Yes – thank you! You are expressing EXACTLY the attitude to which I’m speaking. To use a World War II analogy (they seem to be all the rage) – let’s fight the Nazis (Iran) AND the Japs (Saudi Arabia) and if we need to temporarily ally ourselves with Russia (again) or China (again), then so be it.

“What would you do?”

You mean aside from “The Corner” posting a daily bulletin on Saudi Arabia/Wahhabism? Why not push for these issues (in no particular order) with as much hype and fanfare as you would reserve for Iran?

  1. Missionaries of the ultrafundamentalist Wahhabi sect, financed by Saudi Arabia and supporting terrorism, have a monopoly on Muslim chaplaincies behind bars. Similar patterns of “authorized” prison infiltration by Islamists are visible in Britain, Russia, and other countries. The U.S. Justice Department and related authorities are disinclined to take serious action about this problem.Stephen Schwartz, The Weekly Standard, 11.09.2007
  2. The Foreign Missions Act gives the Secretary of State the authority to regulate foreign missions in the United States and the broad discretion to decide how to treat such missions based on, among other things, “matters relating to the protection of the interests of the United States.” … The Saudi Embassy and Ambassador clearly fall within this definition, as do the two properties on which the Islamic Saudi Academy is operating since they are owned or leased by the Embassy. In addition, the definition of a foreign mission could also encompass ISA itself, given the evidence of Saudi government control.Judith Ingram, The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 10.19.2007
  3. Until the U.S. takes concrete steps to reject Saudi Wahhabist influence peddling, the struggle against radical Islam cannot be effectively waged. As Dr. Daniel Pipes wrote in a blog entry titled The U.S. Government’s Poor Record on Islamists, “Over and over again, branches of the American government have been embarrassed by their blindness to jihadist Islam…”Beila Rabinowitz & William Mayer, Militant Islam Monitor, 06.02.2008
  4. The U.S. needs to undertake a major effort to reorient the madrasah system so that education in the Muslim world focuses less on reproducing repressive religious ideologies and more on teaching the skills needed to develop and globalize their economies; think critically and act independently; and exercise freedom of initiative.Major Todd Schmidt, U.S. Army, Military Review, 05-06.2008
  5. Two major objectives in the Global War on Terrorism are to deny terrorists safe haven and to eradicate the sources of terrorist financing. We cannot be successful in this war by ignoring the problem Saudi Arabia presents to our security. The government of Saudi Arabia can no longer remain idle while its citizenry continues to provide the wherewithal for terrorist groups with global reach nor can it continue to directly facilitate and support institutions that incite violence.Sen. Arlen Specter, U.S. Senate Floor, 10.25.2007
  6. The intimacy of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship provides cover for the ruling family’s repressive domestic policies. U.S. support provides its own form of legitimacy: international standing and stature. Thus the survival of the Saudi regime is not dependent on domestic legitimacy, and the regime is able to shrug off both domestic and international criticism of its deviations from international human norms.Dr. Mai Yamani, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 07.29.2008
  7. The women of contemporary Saudi Arabia need a much more fundamental revolution than the one that took place among American women in the 1960s … the deeper problem is the gradual marginalization of “women’s issues” in domestic politics, which has made them subordinate to security issues or racial issues in foreign policy.Anne Applebaum, Slate, 12.17.2007
  8. Oddly enough, there appear to be no written statutes mandating male guardianship for women. In the religiously conservative kingdom, where Muslim sharia law is held to override all other rules, the practice stems instead from extremist Wahhabi interpretations of Muslim scripture, particularly from a Koranic passage that describes men as the “protectors and keepers of women”. Sadly for Saudi women, the all-male Saudi judiciary is made up entirely of Wahhabi extremists. Despite having signed various international charters for women’s rights, the Saudi government has done little either to modify the system or to enforce the minor reforms it has sponsored.The Economist, 04.24.2008
  9. Because it is not possible to achieve reform without reformists – and most certainly not when they are in prisons and forbidden to move and travel – the domestic policy of Saudi Arabia has turned into attempts to remain [in place] in the midst of a changing environment and events that have roiled the Middle East over the past three yearsOmran Salman, Aafaq, 07.18.2008
  10. There is only one way for Saudi Arabia to change for the better: dis-establishment of Wahhabism as the state religion, abolition of its doctrinal monopoly, and allowing religious pluralism such as exists, at least on paper, in many Muslim countries.Stephen Schwartz, The Weekly Standard, 09.03.2007

“Saudi Arabia’s biggest export isn’t oil; it’s ideology.”
— Mark Steyn

From: Stephen Schwartz
To: r hampton

Nothing I do falls in the category of “token” statements.  Right now Pakistan is, in my view, a more volatile enemy than Saudi Arabia.  Pakistan is complicit in the nuclear arming of Iran (through AQ Khan) and supports the Taliban.  Saudi is undergoing a slow but undeniable transition toward disestablishment of Wahhabism.  The Wahhabi problem can be solved in one day if the USG makes clear it will not allow the energy companies to interfere with King Abdullah and the latter orders that the Wahhabis no longer receive any state support.

The Iranian problem is acutely complicated but I believe most of the Iranian population is opposed to Ahmadinejad.  What flows from that remains to be determined.

Pakistan is, in my view, one of two almost hopeless cases in the Muslim world — the other being Egypt.  The point is to reduce their impact, first.  I have no immediate recommendations on either of these except to observe that at least Mubarak executes radicals while Musharraf and his successors or puppets coddle them.

To me Saudi is much closer to change than Westerners think and therefore the solution is easier.  Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt will require much more strategic thinking.

From: r hampton
To: Stephen Schwartz

You have misunderstood my point about NRO’s inclusion of your articles. It is the editors (in my opinion) who regard your work as a token of sorts because they are on record having made a Faustian bargain with Saudi Arabia. As you have nwritten on many occassions, the KSA pose as much a threat to Israel and the United States as Iran — the difference being, we don’t kid ourselves when it comes to Shahs.

As for Saudi Arabia’s attempts at reform, what do you make of this?
Aafaq Editor-in-Chief Omran Salman: Saudi Arabia Has Squandered Opportunity to Renew its Aging Political System

From: Stephen Schwartz
To: r hampton

I apologize for having been a bit tetchy. I understand you were not accusing me of being a token … Omran is a good friend and I respect his work but I disagree with him about the situation in Saudi. I have spent much of my life participating in and watching how tyrannies end — with personal experience regarding Spain, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Mexico, and South Korea, as well as the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

In all cases small changes went undetected or were discounted by many dissidents or foreign observers. In the Spanish case, the entire Spanish liberal and left constituency believed that King Juan Carlos would continue Francoism.

In the Philippines, Marcos was considered a sure bet and was believed to enjoy American support, until the end. The actions of Wolfowitz to change U.S. policy on Marcos went unreported at the time but ended up being the basis of Reagan’s decision not to support Ferdy.

In Nicaragua, down to the belated announcement of the 1990 election results in which the Sandinistas were removed, the world was convinced the latter would retain power. I published a book on this. Meanwhile, American opponents of the Sandinistas concentrated on supporting the northern contras and ignored the internal legal opposition, made up of political parties and labor organizations, but which in the end won the day.

In Mexico, I am proud to say I was virtually alone in predicting the end of the PRI one-party state. Even when the PRI was voted out in 2000 the news was a complete surprise to most foreigners, although by then many Mexicans were convinced that the PRIocracy was ending.

The fall of the South Korean military regime was also a surprise to the world. I am sure you will recall how shocking the end of Communism was to most observers. So was the war in Yugoslavia, even though I had predicted it in almost every detail in an article published in 1987 — an article that, by the way, elicited jeers from the experts.

It was always interesting to me that nobody ever wrote a book on how to dismantle a Communist economy or state party, because just about everybody thought the thing would last forever. No such book exists today, and ex-Communist countries are struggling blindly with many problems, as I have seen for myself. I first concluded, and wrote, that Soviet communism was extremely brittle and would collapse if given a strong push, in 1977.

There is no reason such positive changes — not a repeat of Yugo — cannot take place in the Muslim countries — Indonesia provides an important positive example and is the largest Muslim country in the world.

Predicting political change and understanding the processes by which it takes place are not easy to do. They require experience and a certain kind of informal schooling. Most of the Arab dissidents lack both and therefore are stuck in an intransigent position on Saudi. My view is that my job is to advance change in Saudi and that doing so means thinking about how to maximize, rather than deny, the small changes that have taken place. Some might call it a question of glass half-empty vs. half-full. I would rather put it in terms of splintering. A small crack in a wall may be dismissed by those who have beaten their heads against the wall and are frustrated by their lack of wholesale success… but the crack is still there, and there are undeniable cracks in the Saudi wall. To emphasize, then, my job is to widen the cracks, not to dismiss them because of their narrowness.

In addition, my group has active people on the ground in Saudi who report to us regularly. We do not operate by reviewing Saudi media alone.

If you look back in the archive of THE WEEKLY STANDARD you will find articles by me describing one of the most momentous changes in the kingdom: the movement to demand accountability in the courts of the so-called religious police or mutawwa, really a kind of vigilante force comparable to the revolutionary defense committees in Cuba, rather than a police. The mutawwa enforce morals, not law, in the same way the CDRs in Cuba enforce political conformity, not law. This is a very real change in attitudes in the kingdom and we are convinced based on our contacts there that Abdullah supports it. Accountability of the mutawwa has not yet been achieved but that is the whole point here — a struggle is underway and its conclusion is as yet undetermined.

Other undeniable changes include the lifting of censorship of e-mails and book publication and distribution, both mainly unreported in the West, the proliferation of blogs, and Abdullah’s invitation to Jews to participate in the Madrid conference, about which I wrote in TWS.

None of these represents a clear victory for change except for the lifting of e-mail and book censorship. Blogs have been shut down and then reopened, and the Madrid conference ended without real progress. Abdullah is badly isolated and faces a real battle to prevail. But history favors the enemies of tyranny, not tyrants, and Muslim society is not exempt from the laws of history — as was shown by the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun.

People today seem, by and large, to have forgotten, or not learned, how long a process of political change takes and how small details turn into major developments.

BTW, my Center is now preparing a report on Wahhabi infiltration of U.S. and UK prisons — it will be shocking, to say the least. We have been involved in this issue since 9/11.

Otherwise, thanks for the notes.


Today edition of NRO’s The Corner reports:
Moderation Alert: Saudis Ban Dogs and Cats in Crackdown on … Flirting