A Paladin Gears Up for War
November 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Foreign >
A Paladin Gears Up for War
BY NIBRAS KAZIMI
November 1, 2007
The first minute of "The Kingdom," which is currently in cinemas, is great. The movie tells the story of an FBI team hunting down a terrorist cell that attacked an American civilian compound in Saudi Arabia, and it begins by giving American audiences a primer on the last 300 years of Saudi history. The gist of it is that the Wahhabis are the enemy — a rather accurate summary.
Here's another thought: My enemy's enemy is my proxy army. The Wahhabis and the Shiites are sworn opponents, and America has unlocked and released Shiite power in Iraq. In a decade's time, the Shiites of Iraq may be tasked with taking out the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia on behalf of the world's economies, a task the Iraqis will relish.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, America and its Western allies have been busily hacking away at the serpents of Al Qaeda but collectively have been reluctant to go after the head of the Wahhabi Medusa.
Wahhabism is a malicious and malevolent idea that animates the worst of today's jihadists. It is a xenophobic way of seeing the world that has radicalized everything it touches, turning the reformist Salafism of the 19th century into a dangerous and hateful ideology, the docile Muslim Brotherhood into Egyptian and Syrian terrorist offshoots, the Deobandis into the Taliban, and finally itself into Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's nihilism in Iraq.
But the cold stare of petrodollar influence has petrified any efforts to go after the ideological fountainhead in Saudi Arabia itself, a state founded and maintained on an all too incestuous embrace between the Royal House of Saud and Wahhabism. When the gods and kings of Greek mythology wanted an end to Medusa's reign of terror, they recruited a warrior, Perseus, and outfitted him with winged sandals, a cap of invisibility, a sword, and a mirrored shield and sent him off to sever Medusa's head. Perseus got the job done, and so will the Shiite-led, 200,000-strong Iraqi army.
America is training and equipping a proxy army in Iraq that will fight this century's most crucial war — the war to keep the oil flowing. There was a curious sight at the military parade on Monday celebrating the handover of security in Karbala Province: Iraqi soldiers were marching with M–16 rifles. This was the manifestation of a recent decision to phase out the Kalashnikov, a Soviet-era icon, as Iraq's basic infantry weapon.
It is a symbolic break with the past: This is the new Iraqi army for a new Iraq, schooled in the 21st-century doctrine of counterinsurgency and having to adapt in all-too-real maneuvers against a postmodern insurgency, the likes of which the world has never seen before. Zarqawi's insurgency will be the model for all future jihadist insurgencies, including one that may break out in the Persian Gulf basin, and that may seriously disrupt the global oil supply; Iraq is unique in possessing the know-how to snuff it out.
Like Perseus, the Iraqi army should be outfitted with all the trappings that have proved useful in defeating such insurgencies: armored Strykers and Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, Apache attack helicopters, etc.
The Iraqi army will be the region's paladin, or knight in shining armor, a far more suitable label than that of regional policeman. This paladin will raid across the Middle East in the name of the "New Middle East," which nobly stands for representative government.
A consequence of President Bush's Iraq war is the inheritance by Iraq's majority Shiites of one of the region's most promising future economies — one credible estimate puts a quarter of the world's oil in Iraq, most of it in the Shiite south. They are poised to project their newfound political, cultural, strategic, and mercantile power beyond their borders.
Iraq's Arab Sunnis, who may number as few as 13% of the population, according to one analysis of election patterns, are no longer the masters of Iraq's destiny. The changeover in Iraq is most acutely contrasted with the old status quo in Syria, where that country's Alawite minority, standing in at around 12%, still controls all the levers of authority. Likewise, the Wahhabis form a plurality of the Saudi population but do not constitute a numerical majority.
Iraq is trending toward stability through representative government, whereas Saudi Arabia is trending toward instability due to a lack of it. Even after it came to light that most of the September 11 bombers were Saudis — a stark wakeup call to the ruling family there and to the world at large — Saudi Arabia remains the Islamic world's leading factory for suicide bombers. One needs to ask the question: Why is a young Saudi male so culturally suited to blow himself up? Why is this young Saudi so utterly devoid of empathy as to be willing to take the lives of women and children along with his own?
The House of Saud has yet to answer such questions, even though it was compelled by international pressure to enact some limited reforms. But instead of curbing the flow of bombers, the conveyer belt seems to have been ratcheted up. What is going on? The answer, quite simply, is that Wahhabism still holds sway, as the royals have staked their legitimacy on keeping things that way, and while the all powerful Wahhabi clerical establishment has relented on some reforms, one area remains a no-go for change: their cherished anti-Shiite sectarianism.
If anything, the House of Saud has upped its anti-Shiite rhetoric in order to placate the Wahhabis, consequently encouraging more young men to kill Shiite women and children in Iraq. This issue becomes more problematic when one considers that Shiites of various denominations constitute 20% of the Saudi population.
How will the House of Saud react as Wahhabi-inspired vigilantes begin massacring their country's 2 million Shiites, who are clustered around the eastern oil wells? Will they beat them back and risk the ire of being seen as Shiite friendly? And as the margins of sectarian chaos widen, and the jihadists move in to burn those oil wells — as they have so clearly indicated their wish to do so — thus bringing the world's economies to a sputtering halt, who is going to leap in to re-establish order?
No force in the Middle East in as clearly suited to the task as the Shiite Iraqis: They have plenty of scores to settle with the Wahhabis — going back to 200 years ago, when the Wahhabis laid waste to Karbala, the holiest of holies for the Shiites, right up to our time — and they are coming to the aid of their Shiite co-religionists in the Eastern Province, an area that was managed by the Ottomans from Basra in southern Iraq during the 19th century.
The Marines certainly can't land on the shores of Dammam without inflaming the sensibilities of the wider Islamic world; the Arabian Peninsula is seen as a holy land on which no "infidel" should tread. The Egyptians and Turks cannot be counted on, as their populations turn more hostile toward the West and more enamored of those who fight it, and other supposed allies of America, such as Jordan or Qatar, are too inconsequential for such a huge civilizational task. Nobody trusts the Iranians. That only leaves the Iraqis.
I am quite aware that this column will be dismissed as yet another round of Saudi-bashing, alarmism, Shiite triumphalism, or neoconservative warmongering. The detractors may ridicule the solution, but they cannot discount the problem: what to do about the Wahhabi Medusa? "Washington is not structured to look that far ahead in the Middle East," one Persian Gulf expert told me. "Deep thinking about the problem before it blows up in our face is not our style. This is not as easy as downing a frappuccino and reading through a Tom Friedman article."
There is still a slim possibility that the House of Saud will redeem itself by accepting, nay accommodating, a Shiite-led Iraq and a representative government, thus averting internal chaos and a future war. The royal family's ancestors were a pragmatic lot that came back from political death — twice. But maybe those good genes have gone to seed, and what little we see of Saudi nimbleness is the frenetic schmoozing of Washington-based public relations and lobbying firms making the rounds on their tab.
The top echelon of Ibn Saud's progeny seems too stodgy and lethargic under its layers of gray, caviar-fed flesh; they are not agile enough to survive a jihadist storm.
The new Iraq means that the House of Saud is no longer indispensable: If it can't keep things under wraps, then the Iraqi paladin is in line to right the wrongs. A Shiite-led Iraq is an invaluable asset for investment bankers as well as military planners "gaming" how the military and economic wars of the 21st century are going to be fought, and where. The new Iraq should be seen as a potential "savior" and its new army should be prepared and equipped as such.
Mr. Kazimi, a contributing editor to The New York Sun, can be reached at email@example.com
November 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Foreign >