Over at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman takes a look at US polices affected by the conflict with ISIS and doesn’t much like what he sees. ISIS, Syria, and Iraq remain problems that current US strategy seems unable to deal with other than by temporizing.
Keeping balls in the air may delay the disaster of their falling to the ground, but fall they will. When they land, they’re going to be landing in places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?
It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be.
The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State
To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi finds that through its online recruiting, ISIS is creating an international league of zombies — mindless creatures that stalk around wreaking havoc wherever they go. Besides being seasonally apt for Halloween, he’s right.
ISIS is able to mobile seemingly brainless youths to join its fight. In addition to the foreigners recruited to fight that he lists, three American teenage girls were stopped in Germany on their way to Syria last week. The attraction of adventure, seeking a break from their boring lives, these youths seem ensorceled by the promise of something different from what they’re living. Instead of the commonplace that terrorists arise out of poverty and unemployment, we’re finding that they can very much be those dealing with “First World Problems“. The recruits are ignorant of Islam, of Islamic history, of regional politics. Those don’t matter at all. It’s that they want to be seen (at least to themselves) as doing something other than what they are doing.
The Zombies of ISIS
A Canadian national named Michael Zahaf-Bibeau, aged 32, made the headlines this week when he carried out a terrorist attack in Ottawa, killing one soldier standing guard at a war memorial before storming the nearby parliament. He was killed in the subsequent firefight with security officers.
Is there more to this story?
According to local media, Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s mother is Canadian while his father is Libyan. He did not speak Arabic. In his youth, he had wanted to travel to Libya to learn the language and study Islam. He had a criminal record. His parents are separated. He has been seeking to travel to Syria to join the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
At the time of writing this article, everything else regarding Zahaf-Bibeau’s motive and intentions is mere speculation.
The media reports delving into Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s past paint a picture of a confused and angry young man. A man who wanted to express the anger and uncertainty that was boiling inside of himself; a man who wanted to prove something to the world.
Ultimately, Zahaf-Bibeau appears to be completely ignorant of true Islam, just like the two Austrian teenage girls who traveled to join ISIS, and the two British Somali schoolgirls who ran away to join this terrorist organization, as well as countless others. These people have no concept of religion, history or politics; if they did they would never join ISIS in the first place.
There’s a conspiracy theory bubbling around — I’m seeing it coming primarily out of S. Asia — that Saudi Arabia and the US are colluding to bring down the price of oil in order to damage the economies of Russia and Iran. While lower prices certainly have that effect, they also negatively affect the economies of all oil producers. If the price drops low enough, in fact, it could damage the oil-fracking industry that has so increased US production. Some countries can weather lower prices better than others. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries.
Rather than a conspiracy or political skullduggery, though, it’s the oil markets that are setting the price of oil. Lower than expected demand from China and increased supplies from the US mean that there’s less demand. Less demand means the prices go down.
An article from Arab News spells out the issue well.
The ‘politics’ behind oil price fall
It is no longer a issue of whispering in the corridors of the oil industry. It is now part of public debate. Is Saudi Arabia launching an oil price war in tandem with the US to undermine or at least weaken energy dependent adversaries Russia and Iran?
The latest to join this discussion is the notable New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote on Oct. 14 under the headline “Pump War?”
“One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the American and Saudi Arabia did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil.”
It is no surprise that people try always to find a link between oil and politics.
Writing for Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for the network, reports on a fascinating conference held in Abu Dhabi last week. The conference discussed just about every facet of the discord that now defines the region. Worth reading in its entirety.
Of domestic demons and aggressive neighbors
Last week a group of scholars, current and former officials and journalists from the Middle East, U.S., Europe, Russia and China met for two days at the inaugural forum of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, sponsored by the Emirate Policy Center. We met to discuss and ponder what can be done about Syria and Iraq – two countries in flames – and to ask are there any chances to prevent Yemen and Libya from moving on the same path of nihilism, whither Egypt after almost four years of tumult and uncertainty, the impact of non-Arab regional powers like Iran and Turkey on the ongoing conflicts of the Arabs, and the major powers policies (assuming that they have coherent ones) toward the Gulf region. And like most conferences the participants met but not necessarily their ideas.
An article in Saudi Gazette reporting on new regulations concerning photography in Saudi Arabia shows the divergence in both law and expectations between the US and the Kingdom. The article focuses on the issue of privacy. In Saudi Arabia, privacy appears to extend even into the public realm. It decidedly does not in the US.
While private activities in private areas are protected in both countries, that which happens in public areas in the US — those things that anyone can observe with his own eyes — is considered public. There is no privacy right to prevent those photographs. If it is observable without intrusion — and that include things that happen indoors, within sight of a passerby, it’s public.
In Saudi Arabia, it’s considered intrusive to take a photo of a willing subject, but one which might include bystanders in the background. While it might be considered good photographic practice in the US to know what’s in the background, that’s only for the purposes of avoiding bad photos and photobombing. Inadvertent results can be embarrassing, particularly if one is where one isn’t supposed to be, but that’s the thing about being in public: it’s in public!
Taking photos in public
Saudi Gazette report
TECHNOLOGICAL advancements have allowed people to take up hobbies with great ease and accessibility and an increasingly popular hobby is photography. With cameras embedded in gadgets including cell phones, laptops and tablet PCs, people are taking more photographs than ever before. However, photography is a controversial issue in a country where people greatly value their privacy. Some people in the Kingdom view taking pictures in public as a tolerable phenomenon while others view it as a breach of privacy, Al-Riyadh daily reports.
Five regulations on taking photographs in public places, ministries, government locations and tourist areas were issued based on recommendations by the concerned authorities. These regulations allow for photographs to be taken anywhere with the exception of sensitive installations where “No Photography” signs are clearly visible. It is the responsibility of every establishment, association or organization whether it is military, civilian or industrial to take measures regarding photographs taken in its domain. Moreover, each organization is responsible for taking sensible measures when these regulations are violated.
Industries and organizations are responsible for putting up “No Photography” signs where appropriate and ensuring that these signs are visible, written in both English and Arabic and illustrated. Penal measures should never result in confiscation of devices, pictures or videos but workshops, lectures and informed security officers should be available to raise awareness on the dangers and consequences of breaching others’ privacy. If one violates the regulations with no ill intent, then a simple warning should suffice.
Majidah Altamimi said taking photos and capturing videos of other people in public places is a breach of personal privacy. “Many take pictures of their friends in public but do not consider the people that appear in the background. That, in itself, is an act of inconsideration, especially if the photos were then posted on social media.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the Saudi accused of killing an American and wounding another has been identified as Fahad Alrashid. He had recently been fired from his job at Vinell Arabia — an American defense firm with long-standing contracts with the Saudi National Guard — and the two he shot worked for the company.
Reports indicate that he may have been fired for “drug-related reasons” and that he may have had similar problems in the US prior to his 2011 return to the KSA.
An image of the man suspected to have killed an American citizen in Saudi Arabia’s capital on Tuesday has been obtained by Al Arabiya News Channel’s online Arabic platform.
Abdulaziz Fahad Abdulaziz Alrashid, 24, the alleged shooter who authorities say was wounded in a gunfight with security forces, is a U.S.-born Saudi who had been fired from U.S. defense contractor Vinnell Arabia, an interior ministry spokesman said in a statement late Tuesday.
Riyadh’s embassy in Washington said in a statement Tuesday that the suspect was recently dismissed from his job “due to drug related issues.”
Vinnell Arabia is a U.S. military contractor supporting Saudi National Guard military programs in Riyadh.
“We are deeply saddened and regret to confirm the death of one of our employees, and the injury to another in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” a statement from Vinnell Arabia said.
Al Arabiya also runs stories noting that the individual was not on any terrorism watch lists nor reported to be linked to any extremist organizations. In other words, this was an incident of work-related violence.
One of the Vinell company’s housing areas was a target of the May, 2003 terrorist bombings in Riyadh.
Saudi media run stories based on a report from the government’s Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that two Americans were shot at a gas station in the east of Riyadh. One was killed; the other, wounded.
This is very early reporting, so few details are available. A gunman was arrested near the scene. I anticipate further reporting as the investigation continues.
At the moment, the US Embassy in Riyadh does not have any notice of the incident on its Citizen Services web page, nor does it offer any warning or analysis.
A U.S. citizen was killed and another was wounded east of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday by unidentified gunman, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Tuesday, citing the police.
Security forces arrested the gunman following the afternoon attack at a petrol station in eastern Riyadh, a police spokesman said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency.
“The attack resulted in the killing of one person and wounding another and it turned out they were of American citizenship,” the statement said.
Police said the attack happened when the two stopped their vehicle at a filling station in an eastern district of the capital.
The UK’s Guardian reports that the arrested assailant is a Saudi, born in the US.
Oddly, Arab News headlines an article saying the shooting was not terrorism-related, but has no story to support that assertion. Instead, the headline links to a very brief recap of the SPA statement.
Al-Jazeera TV offers a useful interactive page that shows the types of assistance (humanitarian, military, or both) that are being provided to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It has another graphic that shows which nations have taken part in air attacks on ISIS targets and where those targets are located.
Arab News carries a story noting Saudi Arabia’s involvement in air raids against ISIS facilities in Syria. The story notes that Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar also took part in the actions alongside the US. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal is extensively quoted on Saudi anti-terror efforts and calling for more states to join global anti-terrorism efforts.
Saudi Arabia’s air force participated in US-led bombing strikes against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria on Tuesday as part of global efforts to eliminate terrorism, an official source said.
“The Saudi Royal Air Force participated in the military operations against IS in Syria, in support of the moderate Syrian opposition, and as part of the international coalition,” said the source. The coalition, he added, was formed to “eliminate terrorism, a deadly disease, and to support the brotherly Syrian people to restore security, unity and development in this devastated country.”
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, meanwhile, told a New York forum that Saudi Arabia would be in the forefront of global efforts to defeat terrorists. “We’ll never hesitate to participate in such serious international anti-terror operations,” he said.
Prince Saud expressed the Kingdom’s hope that the present campaign against IS militants would serve as a nucleus for an international coalition to strike and root out terrorism all over the world.
Long-time Middle East correspondent Chris Dickey writes at “The Daily Beast” website that the Royal Saudi Air Force was involved in last nights raids on ISIS facilities in Syria. It joined the US along with Jordanian, the Emirates, and the Bahraini air forces.
…The air strikes over Syria, participated in directly by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, represent “the beginnings of a real Arab defense force,” the Saudi source said optimistically. Other Arab states, including Qatar and Kuwait, reportedly provided or facilitated logistical support.
While this Reuters (carried in Asharq Alawsat) piece does not spell out what cooperation Saudi Arabia is giving the US in its attacks on ISIS and Nusra Front targets in Syria, whatever it is, it is sufficient to cause ISIS to blame the Saudi royal family. The article does note that the Saudis are allowing the US to train Iraqi military units within its borders.
Washington and Beirut, Reuters—The United States launched air and missile strikes with Arab allies in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing dozens of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and members of a separate Al-Qaeda-linked group, and widening its new war in the Middle East.
“I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against [ISIS] terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
US Central Command said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated or supported the strikes against ISIS targets.
US forces also launched strikes to “disrupt imminent attack” against US and Western interests by “seasoned Al-Qaeda veterans” who had established a safe haven in Syria, it said, apparently referring to attacks against a separate group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said at least 20 ISIS fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces in Syria’s east.
It said strikes had also targeted Al-Nusra Front, in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, killing at least 30 fighters and eight civilians. The Al-Nusra Front is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian wing and ISIS’s rival.
The air attacks fulfill President Barack Obama’s pledge to strike in Syria against ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, imposing a medieval interpretation of Islam, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.
Over the past several years, relations between Saudi Arabia and the US have become strained. The Saudis have not appreciated the American approach toward dealing with Iran, nor did they think much of the weak response from Washington to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government. The Saudis made their displeasure clear.
Now, argues Fahd Nazer in an article for “Foreign Affairs,” things may be getting back to normal. The catalyst is ISIS and the threat it represents to not just Saudi Arabia, but to the region as a whole. Recognizing a common enemy, however, is not sufficient to form new bonds or to reinforce older ones. The actions taken by both the US and Saudi Arabia will be watched closely by the other. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.
Making Amends in Saudi Arabia
The United States and Saudi Arabia — one, the world’s preeminent liberal democracy; the other, a conservative monarchy that declares the Koran to be its constitution — have never been the most natural allies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the relationship has had its ups and downs. It reached an apex in 1991, when Saudis fought alongside U.S. troops to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, only to hit a nadir a decade later, when 15 Saudis participated in the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington organized by al Qaeda. Since then, the Saudi government has become more suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, bristling at the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the encouragement of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, and the ongoing attempt to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
But the sudden rise of the brutal militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) could change all that. Riyadh and Washington have both recognized that ISIS poses a serious threat to Middle Eastern security and stability. By working together against the group, they might shore up the region — and their relationship. But much will depend on the Obama administration’s ability to articulate a clear long-term strategy for the Middle East — and specifically for the two countries where ISIS rose to prominence.