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Saudi Arabia: Keep Your Hands Off Syria

The Saudis — and their U.S. backers — worry the Syrian dissident community.

by
Farid Ghadry

Bio

August 23, 2011 - 12:21 am

On August 18, after six months of the Assad regime slaughtering its people, President Obama finally called on Bashar al-Assad to step down.

We hope Obama and his team are prepared to face the task of encouraging Assad’s fall from power. Since they are understandably reluctant to engage Assad militarily, it seems likely the U.S. will resort to clandestine U.S. and EU operations, tough sanctions, support for the Syrian opposition, and cooperation with some of Syria’s wannabe kingmakers.

The one kingmaker Americans should be most concerned about: Saudi Arabia.

WikiLeaks disclosed the fact that in 2006 the U.S. State Department secretly funded a Syrian TV station operated by people who claimed to be former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. These are not the sort of people we should want in key positions in post-Assad Syria, but they are very much the sort that the Saudis favor.  And the Saudis have been very successful over the years in finding American officials to agree with them.

Some U.S. government employees are delighted to reward Saudi peddling and influence, and this is not just a matter of political agreement or the usual diplomatic desire for good relations. These employees have learned that if they behave properly in office they may land lucrative contracts upon retirement, or in the case of appointed high-powered officials and advisors, immediately following elections. Some of these are able to affect United States policy concerning Syria. Because of this, the Syrian dissident community is concerned about Saudi influence and U.S. State Department direction: the case of the TV station is established precedence that they may fund the wrong Syrian opposition.

The Saudi rulers do not want a secular, democratic Syria, which might inspire like-minded Saudis to demand similar change in their country. The Saudis would likely prefer a chaotic and vulnerable polity in my native country so that they and their friends in Washington can insist democracy has failed in the Middle East, and that a more theocratic state will be more stable and more in keeping with local traditions. Indeed, many American experts and policymakers routinely say such things.

American leaders attempted to peel Assad from Iran for over five years, at the cost of thousands of American lives in Iraq and recently many thousands of Syrian lives. Now that Assad has been finally dumped by the U.S., the American people have the right to ask the tough questions: no one held those leading the charge for Saudi interests accountable for their deeds. The U.S. Congress, the only body to question these failed policies, has been silent for reasons that remain mysterious. The mistakes pile up, and the ultimate losers are the Syrian people and the U.S., along with its allies in the region.

How pleasing must it be for Saudi Arabia, which produced 16 of the 20 terrorists on 9/11, to take a public stand against the state of Israel, and now to attempt to mold Syria in its own image? A sharia-based Syria would threaten the country’s future for generations to come.

The Assad family has written a brutal and sinister chapter of Syrian history. But as Syria is about to shed this past, it is incumbent upon American-Syrian communities and all exiled Syrians to make sure that our native land does not flirt with Islamism as the words “Baath Party” drop from its vocabulary.

Furthermore, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, let us never forget that Saudi Arabia, the supposed ally of the U.S., created the conditions and the manpower to cause that tragic massacre. If we let a few misguided and greedy U.S. officials in Washington have their way, Syria, Israel, and Iraq may well face far greater tragedies.

Farid Ghadry is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger (www.fightingterror.org) and has written several articles and essays on Syria and the politics in the Levant.
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