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Saudi Arabia’s Changing Approach to Terrorism, and How to Encourage It

Jan. 17 2018

Over the years, the Saudi government has compiled a highly ambiguous record in its relationship with Islamist terror. But since 2003 it has been cooperating with the U.S. with growing consistency, and even more recently it has moved from combating terrorist groups to trying to counteract the ideology that gives rise to them. Lori Plotkin Boghardt explains:

Recently, the Saudi leadership has expressed a desire to break with the past regarding religious extremism. . . . Muhammad al-Issa, the new secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, echoed these sentiments in a November interview. Declaring that “the past and what was said, is in the past,” he said the organization’s current mission is to “wipe out extremist thinking” and “annihilate religious . . . extremism, which is the entry point to terrorism.” This language is a startling contrast to the league’s past agenda of promoting an extremist interpretation of Islam across the globe, which in turn helped fuel the terrorism problem. . . .

Apparent shifts in the way Riyadh is approaching the terrorism challenge present opportunities for the United States to encourage broader and deeper changes that address longstanding American interests. One area to support is continued tightening of Saudi supervision over religious figures traveling internationally for work, over religious and educational materials sent abroad by Saudi institutions, and over religious figures doing media work—all toward the goal of restricting the export of extremist ideology. A related interest is the accelerated removal of extremist content that remains in Saudi schoolbooks.

Another area to support is added transparency and measurable advancement in new training, supervision, and reeducation of religious figures and teachers (or, if necessary, their dismissal). The kingdom has already registered successes in these areas and is now building on them; further progress could be discussed during the first annual meeting of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Joint Consultative Group expected later this year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy