Cheap Seats 2017
Dealing with the Devil - 05/24
By Rich Trzupek
Some folks, both conservative and liberal, are concerned about President Trump cozying up to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states: Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. They should be.
That’s not to say it’s the wrong move by the Donald. It is to say that we should not deceive ourselves. We are picking sides in a dispute that has been going on in the Muslim world for hundreds of years: the schism between Sunni and Shia.
Most Americans understand that adherents of the two main branches of Islam, the Sunni majority and Shia minority, don’t particularly like each other. Few understand just how much animosity there is among fundamentalists of both flavors and – make no mistake – there are a LOT of fundamentalists in the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East.
Fundamentalist Sunnis view their Shia counterparts as heretics and vice versa. The fate of heretics, according to fundamentalists on both sides, should be to mend their ways or go to hell, a journey that may be accelerated by God’s righteous servants here on earth.
Trump’s strategy in dealing with this aspect of Islam and the religion’s political function in Muslim majority nations appears to be very different from the last two Presidents.
George W. Bush tried the “let’s wipe out the fanatics and then we can all get along” strategy. It was a noble attempt, but it failed in both aspects. In the end the supply of fanatics proved to exceed our ability to deal with them and no, everybody is not going to get along.
Barack Obama tried the “screw it, you guys sort it out among yourselves” strategy, which didn’t work so well either, because if they haven’t worked it out in almost 1,400 years, they ain’t gonna work it out in eight.
President Trump’s approach is to effectively, but not overtly, choose sides: the Sunni side. He’ll say all the right things about supporting peace-loving Shia as well, but the message to Iran is clear: we’re lining up with the Sunni states – whom you despise.
The message to the Sunni states is equally clear: play ball with us and they’ll be lots of goodies in it for you. Again, Trump isn’t going to overtly say it, nor should he, but behind the scenes the deal-maker is expecting a return on his investment on the Sunni side and I suspect that return means help squashing Sunni extremist and help quashing Iran’s bid to be THE power in the Middle East.
This deal is more a matter of mutual convenience than it is one of mutual friendship, especially in the case of the Saudis. Yes, the Royal House of Saud is a strategic partner of the US and yes it is now a much closer partner after the chilly relationship during the Obama years.
However, the Royal House of Saud remains a repressive, religiously intolerant, misogynist regime. The majority of people living in Saudi Arabia will continue to hate the west in general and America in particular. And, Sunni terrorists are going to continue to kill people whenever they can. Sunni fundamentalists aren’t going away in other words, although hopefully the Sauds and the GCC will put more of a cap on the violent faction.
There will come a day when the west and America will have to address Sunni fundamentalism and Saudi repression, calling it out for what it is, but that day isn’t today.
It’s a little different with the GCC countries, all of which are more or less agreeable to blending traditional Arab/Muslim culture with western culture. As a result, the leaders of those nations and their populace tend to be more naturally friendly to America and the rest of the west. The fundamentalists still exist in the GCC nations, but they are not nearly as numerous, relatively speaking, as they are in nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
I don’t know if Trump’s deal will work, in either the near term or the long term, but what the hell – it’s worth a try.