What to Do About Saudi Arabia

American policymakers share a concern that the Saudi government, Saudi charities, and wealthy Saudi individuals continue to promote extremism around the world. Their assessment, however, tends to rely on findings and assumptions that are imprecise and out of date. Meanwhile, local actors within the kingdom are struggling to fight the extremist strain in their own society. The implications for American policy are profound.  On May 21, the New York Times published an investigative report from Kosovo about the radicalization of local youth by Islamists from the Gulf. It finds that over the past 17 years, mosques, Muslim charities, and imams, funded or trained by “Saudis and others,” used a combination of inculcation, intimidation, and violence to undermine tolerant local Islamic traditions and foment a new jihadist sensibility among the population. It notes that Kosovo has become Europe’s largest per capita exporter of foreign fighters to the Islamic State — and that over the past two years, in a Kosovar security crackdown, 14 clerics were arrested and 19 Muslim organizations shut Continue Reading…

Toward a New International Partnership to Counter Hate Speech

Earlier this year at a conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz made a series of noteworthy remarks about the widespread phenomenon of terrorist recruitment and incitement on the Internet. He called on Saudi youth to take the initiative to counter extremists’ online activity with their own responses, by arguing against strident interpretations of Islam and advancing their own, tolerant understanding of the religion in its stead. He also called on people of good conscience throughout the world — including state and non-state elements — to play their part in fighting extremism on the Internet and social media. The king’s comments have raised numerous issues of interest to peoples and leaderships of Western democratic societies who are themselves grappling with similar problems. The statements have also laid bare the stark contrasts among countries in North America and Europe — and vis a vis their Arab allies — with respect to their differing approaches to this common scourge. Perhaps it was no accident that shortly Continue Reading…

Expertise in countering urban street gangs can be used to fight jihadists

Word is out that Washington’s traditional Arab allies, alarmed at rising terror threats, have been trying to counter jihadist groups on their own. In addition to aggressive military action, homegrown Arab “soft power” efforts have emerged — from media activity to new schools curricula — aiming to undermine extremist ideologies and preempt terrorist recruitment. Some seek to inculcate a positive reading of Islam in hopes that it will inoculate believing Muslims from jihadists’ overtures. Others appeal to young people to personally uphold the integrity of their nation-state by transcending sectarian differences. Numerous Arab states, however, have yet to confront hardline teachings and preachings within their borders that remain frightfully mainstream. It is essential to purge Arab seminaries and mosques of extremism. At the same time, a recent study by two Gulf research institutions suggests that jihadist groups increasingly attract followers by other means besides doctrine. The study, based on the most comprehensive survey of jihadist social media in Arabic to date, found that arguments for mass killing based on Islamic Continue Reading…

Arab-Israeli Relations in a New Regional Framework

Over its long decades, the Palestinian cause has been influenced more by what lay under the table than on it, while Arab statecraft played a major role in lengthening the conflict — both in time and geographic scope. It evolved into a political maze, complicated further by the attempts of the Assad regime, the Qadhafi regime, and others to exercise influence over Palestinian decision making, as is well known to those familiar with the history of the Palestinian organizations. A new height in the dangers of the conflict was reached when the Palestinian cause was hijacked by Saddam Hussein: Having invaded Kuwait, he attempted to create linkage between Kuwait and Palestine — a particularly vicious case of manipulating popular emotions about Palestine to serve the political interests of a regime. Most recently, we have reached a period in which Iran has penetrated the Arab arena to an unprecedented degree, by playing numerous cards, the most prominent being the slogan of “Palestinian resistance.” Meanwhile, “Israel’s right to exist” has become a Continue Reading…

Former Ambassador Jim Jeffrey: The biggest threat in the region isn’t ISIS but Iran

Between 2007 and 2012, career ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey served as Deputy National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, then, under the Obama Administration, as United States Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq. Now a member of the Defense Policy Board and a prominent voice in the Washington policy discussion, he has emerged as a critic of Obama Administration policies in Syria and the Iranian nuclear accord. In an exclusiveinterview with Asharq Alawsat, he discussed his own vision for a more robust Syria policy, shifting American public opinion on foreign military deployment, concerns about Iran, and the current frontrunners in the candidacy for President of the United States. Q: You call for the United States to use air and ground forces to create a “safe zone” in Syria. Explain the proposed plan. A: It would be an area under the control of a combination of American, Turkish, local, and basically Sunni Arab forces from various population groups that we’re in contact with — and, I’d hope, other members of the Continue Reading…

An Interview with Fran Townsend

Frances Townsend  is the former Homeland Security Advisor to United States President George W. Bush. She chaired the Homeland Security Council and reported to the President on homeland security policy and counterterrorism policy. She previously served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism. Subsequently, in her life as a private citizen, she has become a trusted analyst on security and foreign affairs on American TV news networks, such as CNN. She also serves as President of the “Counter Extremism Project” — a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideology. In this interview, Ms. Townsend reflects on her experiences representing the President in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, her views on the Obama Administration and the next American president in terms of foreign policy, and her own perspective on Iran and the conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere. Q: What is your overall view of the state of White House policies toward Washington’s traditional allies Continue Reading…

Former DIA Director David Shedd: The United States Needs a Strategic Rebalance and a Quick Win in the Middle East

David Shedd is one of the most influential American intelligence officers in the post-September 11 era. During the Bush Years, serving in the National Security Council and eventually as Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Policy, Plans, and Requirements, he implemented sweeping intelligence reforms and a new “National Intelligence Strategy.” Under the Obama Administration, in August 2010, he was named Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and, four years later, took the post of Acting Director for several months before retiring from public service. In an exclusive interview, Mr. Shedd recalls his views of the Arab world during the “Arab spring” period and how they differed from the majority view within the Obama Administration. He explains the challenge of conducting intelligence work on Iran and the role of intelligence in America’s policies toward the Islamic Republic. Finally, looking ahead to the next White House, he presents some of new options for the United States which would mark a significant departure from Obama Administration policies. Q: What were your foremost Continue Reading…

A Campaign in Saudi Arabia Challenges Young People to Rethink Their Biases

by Joseph Braude – A three-minute video, posted by a Saudi government-backed organization to YouTube on June 4, has garnered 150,000 views in 48 hours and sparked a discussion in the kingdom about how to stem sectarian conflict. In “The Hidden Killer,” a voice speaking Saudi-inflected Arabic asks the viewer to guess the identity of a force “worse than disease, natural disasters, and famine” which kills not only innocents by the hundreds of thousands but also entire states. (Spoiler alert: The hidden killer might be you, unless you learn to accept difference and get along with others.) The narration intensifies over a sequence of animated watercolor images and a lean, crescendoing soundtrack. Here’s the clip, subtitled into English: The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, which commissioned the video, was established in 2003 in the wake of the September 11 tragedy and a subsequent series of Qaeda-linked terror attacks in Riyadh which claimed more than 40 lives. It aimed to offer a platform to “debate reform and suggest remedies” for Continue Reading…

Why Iran Matters to South Korea — and Why South Korea’s Middle East Posture Should Matter to the United States

The controversial Iranian nuclear framework agreement presented on April 2nd in Lausanne is being closely watched 6,500 miles east of Tehran, on the Korean peninsula. Beginning in 1994, the rogue state of North Korea broke a series of promises to the international community to submit to nuclear inspectors and disarmament. In 2009, it declared that it had developed a nuclear weapon. As the country most gravely threatened is the democratic Republic of Korea to Pyongyang’s south, I sat down this week with Oh Joon, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and asked for his perspective on Lausanne. Seoul is an increasingly active player in the Middle East. In 2012, a South Korean consortium began to construct four commercial nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates, in a deal approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and valued at $20 billion. Trade with the broader region has grown rapidly. With respect to Iranian efforts to dominate Arab politics through proxy militias, South Korea has generally sided with Sunni Continue Reading…

Political slugfest on suggestion the White House may take an Iran deal to the UN

This following is a translation of Joseph Braude’s latest weekly column in Arabic, Letter from New York (Risalat New York), in the Moroccan daily Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya. Reports emerged in the American media Thursday that President Obama may propose a resolution to the UN Security Council calling for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran, if an agreement is reached by the “P5+1” negotiating team over the country’s nuclear program. The possibility angered members of the Republican Congress, who have been fiercely critical of the emerging Iranian deal, citing concerns that it will enable Iran to gradually achieve its nuclear aspirations, as well as free its hand to further empower its Shi’ite Islamist Arab proxies. Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya, “There is a strong possibility that the President will take this to the Security Council because that is an Iranian demand. The reason the Iranians want him to go to the UN is they want sanctions relief, and a UN resolution will give the Continue Reading…