Funny thing about the recent op-ed by Nawaf Obaid in The Washington Post outlining likely Saudi actions if the United States withdraws from Iraq: namely, that Saudis would both support Sunnis in Iraq (versus Shiites supported by Iran) and manipulate the oil market to "strangle" the Iranian economy.
I think it sounds peachy, this let-them-devour-each-other strategy -- which I'm guessing many Americans mutter to one another in frankness, if not also in confidence.
After the column appeared, not only did the Saudi government disavow it, but Obaid was fired from his job advising the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal. Hmmm, thought Saudi-ologists. Before anyone could say, "shifting desert sands," Turki resigned his post in Washington, hightailing it back to the so-called kingdom for reasons unknown, but possibly concerning machinations related to securing the post of foreign minister long held by Turki's ailing brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal. The post is also coveted by former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Hmmm again.
But now it seems the Obaid column "reflected the view of the Saudi government," after all. At least, that's the way The New York Times tells it.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that "private" Saudi money is already supporting Sunni forces in Iraq. According to the Times, this private funding could easily become official Saudi policy. While Saudi leaders say they have so far withheld support from Al Qaeda-led Sunni groups in Iraq, the newspaper explains, "if Iraq's sectarian violence worsened, the Saudis would line up with Sunni tribal leaders" -- Al Qaeda or no Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, we already know Iran is backing, if not guiding, Iraqi Shiites. So what should we do?
I propose two options, neither of which has occurred to Iraq Study Groupies calling for peace parleys with Hezbollah boosters and Holocaust deniers, or to hawkish proponents of "winning" Iraq (or at least Baghdad) with more troops. But maybe that's because neither group dares to reckon with the two greatest obstacles to our efforts in the region: namely, Islam (culturally unsuited to Westernity) and our own politically correct ROE, or rules of engagement (strategically unsuited to victory).
The first option is military, but it carries a seemingly insurmountable cultural override. The fact is, the United States has an arsenal that could obliterate any jihad threat in the region once and for all, whether that threat is bands of IED-exploding "insurgents" in Ramadi, the deadly so-called Mahdi Army in Sadr City, or genocidal maniacs in Tehran. In other words, it's a disgrace for military brass to talk about the 21st century struggle with Islam as necessarily being a 50- to 100-year war. Ridiculous. It could be over in two weeks if we cared enough to blast our way off the list of endangered civilizations.
As a culture, however, the West is paralyzed by the specter of civilian casualties, massive or not, that accompanies modern (not high-tech) warfare, and fights accordingly. It may well have been massive civilian casualties in Germany (40,000 dead in Hamburg after one cataclysmic night of "fire-bombing" in 1943, for example) and Japan that helped end World War II in an Allied victory. But this is a price I doubt any Western power would pay for victory today.
So, the military solution -- which isn't the same as boosting ROE-cuffed troop levels in Baghdad -- is out, unless or until our desperation level rises to some insupportably manic level. The great paradox of the "war on terror," of course, is that as our capacity and desire to protect civilians in warfare grows, our enemy's capacity and desire to kill civilians as a means of warfare grows also. Our fathers saved us from having to say, "Sieg Heil," but what's next -- "Allahu akbar"?
Not necessarily. There's another Middle Eastern strategy to deter expansionist Islam: Get out of the way. Get out of the way of Sunnis and Shiites killing each other. As a sectarian conflict more than a thousand years old, this is not only one fight we didn't start, it's one we can't end. And why should we? If Iran, the jihad-supporting leader of the Shiite world, is being "strangled" by Saudi Arabia, the jihad-supporting leader of the Sunni world, isn't that good for the Sunni-and-Shiite-terrorized West? With the two main sects of Islam preoccupied with an internecine battle of epic proportions, the non-Muslim world gets some breathing room. And we sure could use it -- to plan for the next round.