As the calendar rolls over to 2018, we need to take stock of where we are as Americans, noting the dangers that lie ahead. Those dangers involve politics, culture, economics, foreign policy, and religion, as well as our capacity as postmodern people for thinking in terms of unchanging moral truths and applying them. For there is great evil occurring on the other side of the world, and we are playing a part in it. And while we are fixated on the tawdry scandals and tweets of the news cycle, we may not be paying close attention to events that fit an all-too-familiar pattern, with a predictable outcome that, by now, we should have learned to avoid.
This time, the events are occurring in Saudi Arabia.
The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh prides itself on offering the greatest luxury amenities sharia can afford: immaculate accommodations, imported chocolates, piles of halal prawns, an “exclusive gentlemen’s-only” spa facility that looks like the interior of the penthouse at Trump Tower. Prices aren’t terrible, and there are deals. The Honeymoon Package starts at SAR 1,389 (under $400), for which you get “in-room American breakfast,” “sweet platter,” “sparkling juice,” and “rose petal turn down” for you and your first, second, third, or fourth bride, provided you show documentation that proves you are legally hitched.
You can book a room online today, but as I write, “the hotel’s telephone lines are currently disconnected until further notice,” according to the Ritz’s website. That may have something to do with the fact that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (he goes by “MBS”; he’s not the only Prince Salman) has taken over a portion of the hotel and turned it into a prison/interrogation chamber for 200 of his rivals. Some of them are fellow “royals”—blood relatives who are scions of the many-wived Abdulaziz, a.k.a. Ibn Saud, founder of the modern Kingdom and conqueror of Mecca in 1925.
When a massive clan, galvanized by Sunni/Wahhabi Islam and asabiyyah (cohesive loyalty), gains control of the world’s second-largest oil reserves, you get the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today, the Kingdom is a bloated welfare state whose population includes 5,000 “princes” who consume (according to Barron’s) up to $50 billion per year enjoying ridiculously opulent lifestyles; a class of wealthy “noble” families loyal to the “royals” (e.g,, the late Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, multibillionaire Saudi construction magnate and father of 56 children, including the late Osama); and some 20 million Saudi nationals, two thirds of whom work for the government and are, to varying degrees, on the royal dole.
Prince MBS inherited a problem: His Desert Kingdom needs money. Oil prices are not what they used to be, his billionaire brethren and “nobles” are profligate, and he recently bought $500 billion in arms—tanks, planes, radar, etc.—from Donald Trump, in the largest arms sale in U.S. history. MBS requires such things to help him wage total war on Yemen, his neighbor to the south, specifically against the Houthi rebels who are Shi’ites in league with the Saudis’ mortal enemy, Iran. In his effort over the last few years to liberate the people of Yemen, he has killed thousands upon thousands of them by bombing their homes and hospitals, and blockaded their harbors so that humanitarian relief cannot reach them. One million Yemenis contracted cholera in 2017, over 2,200 have died from it, and, adding insult to injury, the beginning of December was greeted with a diphtheria outbreak. Hundreds of thousands are starving. Yemen is a place of nightmare. Are we sanctioning the Saudis, denouncing these war crimes? No: Beginning under Barack Obama and continuing under Donald Trump, the U.S. military has supported the Saudis in their Blitzkrieg, refueling their jets midair so they can continue to bomb diseased, starving people.
Meanwhile, MBS is hanging his rivals by their heels at the Ritz (literally, in the case of “Prince” Alwaleed bin Talal, billionaire playboy who “owns major stakes in Twitter and Citigroup,” according to CNBC), until the coins fall out of their thobes. Insiders have accused MBS of using U.S.-based Blackwater contractors (famous for their clandestine killings in Iraq) to shake the princes down, according to the British press, although Blackwater denies this, on account of the fact that it is now called Academi, and Academi merely provides training services to its paying customers. Reportedly, at least one prince has already coughed up a billion bucks, to purchase his freedom.
American foreign policy has degenerated into a bettor’s game of picking ponies at the track, and “Iron Prince” Salman, age 32, is our pony. Yes, a blood-thirsty Arab Wahhabi Muslim is Our Guy. Why?
Oil, of course is an obvious answer. Presently, Saudi state-owned Aramco plans to go public (valuation: $2 trillion), selling five percent of itself in an IPO. This would put $100 billion in the coffers of the Kingdom. President Trump has strongly encouraged his “very great” “friend” MBS to make this artful deal with the “New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ, or frankly anybody else located in this country . . . ” It would mean big bucks for the winning American exchange and underwriters such as Goldman Sachs, as Mark G. Brennan wrote in the October 2017 issue of Chronicles.
Prince MBS is Our Guy also because he is, or might be, a “reformer.” We know this because he recently decided to let the benighted women of the Kingdom drive cars. The “royal decree,” signed by his fading father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, was announced in late September 2017 and goes into effect in June 2018. Prince MBS’s brother, Prince Khalid, declared that women would be allowed to apply for drivers’ licenses without the express written consent of a male guardian. How does this translate into the Land of Wahhabism?
The 18th-century founder of the Saud dynasty, Muhammad ibn Saud, made an alliance with his friend and cleric Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, who became the father of Wahhabism. The central ethos of Wahhabism is the purification of Islam. Together they slaughtered Shi’ite women and children by the thousands. After all, Wahhab pronounced the Shi’ites to be no better than the polytheist infidels (Christians), and he regarded Christians and Jews as sorcerers. Today, Saudi Arabia (where Mecca is) is a Wahhabist state. “Sorcery” and conversion to Christianity (apostasy) are among the many crimes that are punishable by execution via public beheading with a sword. Headless bodies are often crucified to emphasize submission (Arabic: “Islam”). This is no great secret: The chief headsman even gave an interview to the BBC, boasting of his skills. Women are stoned to death for adultery, while men are given 100 lashes. Women are chattel, forbidden from leaving the house without a male family member’s permission and, most of the time, escort. And when they do leave the house, they’d better not be caught with any ankle showing from underneath their head-to-toe black burka, or they are liable to receive a beating from the religious police. In Shi’ite Iran, Christians have been persecuted and churches shut down, on the whim of local authorities. In Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, there are no churches, period. It is illegal to practice Christianity publicly. You may not wear a cross. There is no Christmas.
Wahhabism, like Trotskyism, has an internationalist outlook. According to the U.S. State Department, for 40 years (since Wahhabism and oil money took off in the Kingdom), the Saudis have funded “charitable foundations” the world over, building mosques and madrassas, spreading their violently pure version of Islam to the tune of at least $10 billion. According to the U.K. Telegraph, European intelligence believes that upward of 20 percent of that $10 billion has made its way into the hands of Al Qaeda “and other violent jihadists.” ISIS is a product of Wahhabist ideology and Wahhabist donations, despite the fact that the Saudis led a coalition of Sunni nations against the so-called Islamic State; ISIS is bad for business, and worse for the “pure Islam” brand. The Saudis spread their Wahhabist ideology around the world among disaffected Sunnis, who discover the fundamental truths of the Koran, including jihad against any perceived threat to their vision of the worldwide ummah (the Islamic community).
But again, our “friend” Prince MBS is running low on funds, and he knows that business-as-usual in the Kingdom is unsustainable. With that in mind, he is accelerating the process of “Saudization” (Nitaqat), which seeks to replace the foreign nationals (including a large group of Filipinos, thought to be clandestine Christians) who dominate the Kingdom’s languishing private sector with native-born Saudis. Saudization has been a goal of the “royals” for some time, because social welfarism bleeds their coffers, but Prince MBS is kicking the program into high gear, raising quotas for Saudis in various private-sector fields. Thus, before we nominate Salman for a Nobel Peace Prize for liberating women in their automotive capacity, we must consider that allowing Saudi women to drive means allowing Saudi women to drive to work, at the jobs now being opened to them under Saudization. It is evidence not of liberalism but of the Kingdom’s plan to Make Arabia Great Again.
However, that does not mean Saudi Wahhabis and other Salafist onlookers will not perceive this as liberalism, especially if they have an ax to grind against the royals. Given the well-established pattern followed by Muslim countries and Islamic societies throughout history, and in light of the insights into human nature provided us by experience, Scripture, and common sense, we may well wonder: Will the dawn of the Danica Patrick era in Saudi Arabia be well received? Contrary to the guiding principle of neoconservative foreign policy, not everyone in the world yearns for liberty, equality, and fraternity; for some, religion is everything. Will these Muslim patriarchs take kindly to their wives (up to four each, by law) going behind their backs to get jobs? Will they allow them to leave the house in order to get into their cars? (Feminist critics of the regime are already crying, “Next we do away with the guardianship laws!”) Will the men feel sufficiently put upon that they become easy marks for their Wahhabist brethren in ISIS or similar groups that emphasize pure Islam by any means necessary? ISIS has already bombed Shi’ite mosques in Saudi Arabia and urged the royals to join them in their efforts to “kill the enemies of Islam, especially the Shi’ites . . . It is a duty upon us to kill them . . . and even to purify the land [of Muhammad’s birth] from their filth.” Muhammad himself warned against the danger of asabiyyah, when it grows from the cohesiveness of family bonds into a kind of nationalism, which threatens the international character of the ummah. Make Arabia Great Again is the sort of thing ISIS could seize and use as a recruiting tool, calling for a revolution against grasping, decadent “royals”—especially if the Prince cuts government wages again, making millions vulnerable to the message of jihad. Into whose hands would those billions of dollars in American weapons fall, if a revolution were to occur?
The big reason why Prince MBS is the White House’s current Islamic wunderkind could serve as the greatest recruiting tool for Islamist-style “reform” in the Wahhabi Kingdom. That reason is Israel, whose patron state is Islam’s “Great Satan,” the United States. Echoing the intensely pro-Saudi rhetoric of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump has made it clear through his words, actions, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a frequent traveler to Riyadh, that he believes the Saudis are the key to the elusive goal of peace in the promised land. On the face of it, the whole thing is absurd: Wahhabi Saudis detest Jews. Then again, they also hate Shi’ites, and the Shia regime of Iran is their great existential enemy, the object of their wrath in their proxy war against diseased, starving Yemen. For decades, the Saudis have learned to practice mutually affirming love with the Great Satan, to their great enrichment, and now Prince MBS’s regime is meeting with Israelis. The Prince himself secretly went to Tel Aviv in September.
Israel’s enemy Hezbollah, the violently Islamist Shi’ite militia/political party across her northern border in Lebanon, has seats in the Lebanese government and is supported by Iran. In November, Riyadh-born Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni educated at Georgetown, was abruptly summoned by the Saudis to Riyadh, where he went on Saudi television and tendered his resignation, citing fears of assassination by Hezbollah. “I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries,” he said. Subsequently, a memo from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs was leaked to Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 10 News. It urged Israeli ambassadors throughout the world to lobby governments in light of Hariri’s resignation to oppose Iran and support the Saudis’ war on Yemen.
Donald Trump has never ceased to denounce the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the “dumbest” deal ever. Trump blasted the Iran nuclear deal throughout his campaign, whipped up crowds over it against Crooked Hillary, garnered sympathy from Republicans over his hatred of it, and as President, has finally stopped certifying it (although Tehran hasn’t violated it). Together with North Korea, Iran has returned to Axis of Evil status. Neoconservative War Hawks (who, in the pages of The Weekly Standard, have urged that we carefully distinguish ISIS Wahhabism from progressive Saudi Wahhabism) thrill at Trump’s bellicosity toward Tehran, and John “bomb-bomb-bomb Iran” McCain continues to echo George W. Bush in declaring Iran (not Saudi Arabia) the “largest state sponsor of terror in the world.”
That designation is supported by the fact that, although Iran doesn’t spend billions planting mosques and madrassas in the West, Iran is the power and the funding behind the Shi’ite Crescent, stretching up through Iraq, over to Syria, and down into Lebanon. America made the Shi’ite Crescent possible by invading and destroying Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein from power and handing him over to his Shi’ite enemies for hanging (“Muqtada! Muqtada!”), and bringing purple-fingered democracy to the Shi’ite-majority in Iraq. We also paved the way for the creation of Wahhabi-inspired ISIS, which drummed up resistance to Shia dominance among the disaffected Sunnis of the region. In the process, we decided that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was worthy of regime-change, and so we funded, armed, and trained rebel groups that eventually joined the burgeoning Islamic State and burned down churches formerly protected by Assad.
Pinning our hopes on a freshly armed Prince MBS is not just a fool’s errand that is unlikely to bring lasting peace to the Middle East or solidify the Trump/Kushner/Bannon legacy: It is a recipe for World War III. For well over a year, the American media and both political parties have demanded that we make Vladimir Putin our Great Satan, the underminer of American democracy. Putin’s nuclear-armed Russia is sympathetic toward her allies in the Shi’ite Crescent. The Russians have interests in the region; it is much closer to them.
This is no binary either/or. One need not think warm thoughts about Iran, or Syria, or Russia, or about Clinton, Putin, or Assad, or Hezbollah or the Houthis, to face reality when it comes to Saudi Arabia. The leader of a country that spreads the ideology of jihad throughout the West and violently suppresses Christianity and basic human dignity at home (and next door) will not serve as Cyrus to the Israelis or aid us on a divine mission to forestall—or bring about—the Rapture, although he does seem to be setting the stage for a virtual Armageddon. Our track record in manipulating the Islamic world is a list of failures that have invariably made things worse. That is because it is not within the realm of possibility for the United States or any foreign power to control the Middle East and its Sunnis, Shi’ites, Wahhabists, Salafists, terrorists, dictators, and oil-rich “royals.” We cannot spread “our way of life” to peoples who have Muhammad as their prophet—which, by definition, means they despise the crucified Son of God—no matter how much money or how many weapons or sanctions or bombs we throw at them. On the contrary, if any sort of equilibrium is to be achieved in this region of the world, so far from the fruited plains of patriot dreams, we need to withdraw all military operations and diplomatic manipulations, and let these countries stand or fall on their own.
At minimum there is one thing we ought to be willing to admit, no matter what it costs us: It is wrong to support and befriend a prince who bombs civilians, starves infants, and would crucify one of his own people for becoming a Christian.