ISIS is Another Example of Saudi Arabia’s Myopic Foreign Policy

For years , Saudi Arabia has exported and subsidized a violent and extreme version of Islam espoused by Wahhabi clerics throughout the world.  Fueled by this fanatical ideology, many Saudi nationals left to take up arms in Iraq and Syria over the last decade.  Now the Saudi kingdom is alarmed that ISIS is on its northern and southern borders and that many of their own radicalized citizens will find their way home. While the United States continues to search for a way to maneuver the threat of ISIS (born partly out of its own flawed strategies), Saudi Arabia’s chickens are coming home to roost, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Although a 2003 al-Qaeda-led attack in Riyadh led to tighter reins on terrorism, the House of Saud has continued to bankroll Wahhabi-led intolerant religious centers across the globe, as well as militancy abroad during the Iraq War and the Syrian civil conflict. Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from 2009 have confirmed that the Saudi kingdom is still considered the “critical financial base” for the export of terrorist activities. Saudi-funded extremism has not only assaulted and defaced an entire religion, but has also heavily fractured regional stability in the Middle East and continues to threaten global security.

Yet Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most undemocratic and fundamentally “religious” states, has shared a prosperous relationship with the United States for close to a century. In the last few decades alone, the Saudi kingdom has obtained military weapons, training, and technology to counter the rise of Shi’ite extremism. In exchange, the U.S. found a steady oil supplier in the region, benefiting from Saudi Arabia’s increased production to stabilize rising oil costs when needed.  In fact, this relationship has allowed the Saudis to provide a counterweight to both nations’ common adversary, Iran, since the Iranian Revolution.

But the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has also allowed undemocratic practices in the Gulf nation, usually publicly condemned by the U.S. in other parts of the world, to continue unabated­­.  In 2011, while the Western world welcomed democratic transitions in the Arab world, the Saudi monarchy, suspecting similar unrest within its own borders, provided close to $200 billion in stimulus packages to its citizens while simultaneously sending Saudi troops to crush the Shi’ite majority’s uprising in neighboring Bahrain.  While many perceived these acts to be a bribe and an obstruction to democracy respectively, there were little to no repercussions on the House of Saud.

As the U.S. continues to grapple with ISIS’ debilitating effects on Iraq and careful, strategic avoidance of a military presence in Syria, perhaps it ought to reevaluate its questionable relationship with the Saudi kingdom—a relationship that is not only counterproductive to U.S. interests, but also unsustainable in light of backfiring developments in the Middle East. And for Saudi Arabia, it might be helpful to remember that you reap what you sow; if the House of Saud wants to fortify its borders and keep terrorism out of its country, it ought to stop funding and supporting it elsewhere.