Assessing Two Countering Violent Extremism Programs: Saudi Arabia’s PRAC and the United Kingdom’s Prevent Strategy

Assessing Two Countering Violent Extremism Programs: Saudi Arabia’s Prac and the United Kingdom’s Prevent Strategy

William Sheridan Combes

Throughout America’s War on Terror, the United States military and national security apparatus has demonstrated extreme lethality and efficacy in combat counterterrorism operations.  Arrests, drone strikes, and targeted killings have resulted in the deaths of al-Qaeda’s major operatives and ideologues, specifically Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.  These ideologues espoused a violent ideology for militant Islamists that believes in a selective interpretation of the Quran, opposes the beliefs of non-Muslims, and rejects political participation in both Western democracies and Middle Eastern institutions of government.[1]

Despite the successes of the aforementioned operations in neutralizing some of the main proponents of this ideology, these ideas still exist.  Due to the ubiquity of these ideas and their penetration into civil society, a few nations have sought to take a more comprehensive and non-violent approach to tackling violent extremism.  Authorities label these programs as countering violent extremism (CVE), and they exist in both Muslim and non-Muslim majority states.  Two such programs have gained notoriety for their effort to tackle militant Islamist extremism:  Prevention, Rehabilitation, and After Care (PRAC) program in Saudi Arabia and the Prevent Strategy in the United Kingdom (U.K.).  Through an analysis of PRAC and Prevent, we can contrast two different ideological approaches to CVE, see the importance of social welfare in implementing these programs, and understand the difficulty in evaluating the efficacy of CVE programs.  An analysis of these case studies—one found in a Muslim majority state and one not—will benefit the national security of the United States as policy makers implement and assess the country’s nascent CVE program.[2]

In order to properly assess the CVE programs found in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, we must first analyze some of the fundamentals of these programs and the intellectual debates surrounding these concepts.  Early scholarship on violent extremism placed it in the context of criminology and asserted that many terrorists were merely maligned individuals that could not reverse the deviant path down which they have traveled.  As counterterrorism experts Lorenzo Vidino and James Brandon characterized the previous mindset on radicalization, “’once a terrorists, always a terrorist’”.[3]  Yet, this consensus has changed dramatically over the past decade as radicalization has since been defined as a process or a spectrum. [4]  To radicalize, a person first engages in cognitive radicalization:  Where he or she “adopts a set of ideas that are severely at odds with those of the mainstream, refut[ing] the legitimacy of the existing social order, and seeks to replace it with a new structure.”[5]  A radicalized individual will move along the spectrum toward violence when that set of ideas justifies and prompts an individual to support or engage in violence for social change.

Most CVE programs seek to counter violent ideology along the entirety of the radicalization spectrum through the employment of radicalization awareness, de-radicalization, and disengagement. [6]  Therefore, radicalization prevention programs seek to raise awareness of a violent ideology and the behavior associated with the adoption of this ideology.  Awareness is proactive and its success relies on the entirety of society to understand radicalization and identify symptoms of this process in the populace.  De-radicalization and disengagement, on the other hand, are reactionary and target individuals.  De-radicalization is measured by an individual’s abandonment of militant views and disengagement represents an individual’s disconnection with a terrorist group.  Radicalization awareness, de-radicalization, and disengagement represent the three fundamentals of a CVE program and or strategy.  Two such programs, Prevent in the U.K. and PRAC in Saudi Arabia, have engaged in this comprehensive approach to violent extremism and developed comprehensive programs to check the rise of violence in their respective societies.

Saudi Arabia’s PRAC program grew out of domestic terror campaigns of the mid 1990s and early 2000s.[7]  From 1995 to 2003, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became besieged by a militant Islamist insurgency.  Saudi officials successfully crushed the militant Islamists with a brutal combat counterterrorism campaign.  Yet, Saudi officials understood that they could not challenge violent Islamist extremism solely with security measures.  Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI) developed a CVE program to compliment the Kingdom’s robust combat counterterrorism operations.  The MOI designed this CVE program to “combat the intellectual and ideological justifications of violent extremism by engaging an ideology that “the Saudi [G]overnment asserts is based on corrupted and deviant interpretations of Wahhabi Islam.”[8]

PRAC exhibits an ideological approach to CVE driven by a blend of Islamic theology and state authority.  PRAC assumes that it can counter militant Islamist ideology by diffusing it within the framework of Islam and proving to extremists that their ideology has perverted true Islam.[9]  The ideological aspects of the program focus on the Islamic concepts of authority and understanding of religious doctrine to delegitimize the theological underpinnings of militant Islamist ideology.  Through education, PRAC seeks to strengthen a participant’s understanding of Islamic theology as practiced by the Saudis and the ways in which militant Islamist ideology warps true Islam.

In addition to delegitimizing the theological underpinnings of militant Islamist ideology, PRAC reaffirms state authority by placing it in the context of Islam.  The program proposes that the Islamic notion that da’wah (or call to faith) is also a person’s obligation to the government.[10]  Violating this da’wah nullifies an individual’s social contract with the Kingdom and contradicts Wahhabi Islam, which is the dominant interpretation of Islam practiced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Furthermore, Wahhabi Islam “stresses loyalty, recognition of authority, and obedience to leadership.”[11]  Therefore, PRAC’s ideological approach to CVE combines theology and civic responsibility, which is important for a “government that relies on religion for legitimacy.”[12]

In addition to its strong ideological approach, PRAC contains robust social welfare for detained militant Islamists.  The Saudis established PRAC’s rehabilitative program on the notion that the Saudi Government wants to assist those that have been duped by a deviant ideology; the program is not punitive in nature but rather rehabilitative for those victims of radicalization.[13]  PRAC invites detained individuals to participate in a process of education and counseling; the program also works under the presumption that those attracted to violent Islamist extremism have an “incomplete understanding of Islam.”[14] These clerics will properly educate the participants on subjects such as:  Takfir (accusations of apostasy), walaah (loyalty), bay’ah (allegiance), terrorism, the legal rules for jihad, and psychological course on self-esteem.[15]  Counseling ameliorates a detainee’s education by allowing the participants to engage clerics in Islamic dialogue.  The Advisory Committee, which manages the counseling program, values the relation established between the detainee and cleric.  Stressing the importance of a bond, the Advisory Committee will replace a cleric if it feels he has not established a rapport with the detainee.  The bond between detainee and state-sponsored cleric is crucial to a program that seeks to establish a new ideological framework through authority and trust.

PRAC also strengthens social bonds during the rehabilitative process by including a detainee’s family and offering social services to him and his family.  The Advisory Committee typically includes family members during de-radicalization.  Families “are briefed on the condition of their sons, their experiences, and how they have been affected.  Families are counseled on how to talk to their sons and persuade them to repent.”[16]  To accommodate the social need of a detainee, the Saudi Government will provide financial support in the form of lost salary, family healthcare, and children’s schooling for a detainee and his family during the detainee’s incarceration.  This vast array of psychological and financial support represents PRAC’s strong insistence on the social welfare of its detainees and that the Saudi Government “cares deeply about each person and that it will therefore do whatever it takes to support and care for someone.”[17]

Despite its comprehensive approach to CVE, one must wonder about the success of the program.  The Saudi Government has rated the program’s success at around 80 to 90 percent and acknowledged that 10-20 percent failure rate does not distinguish between detainees that failed or those that refused to participate.[18]  These dubious numbers imply that PRAC’s only failures are those individuals that did not participate.  PRAC authorities also have not indicated how the Saudis truly measure success.  Saudi officials boast that “a vast majority of prisoners who complete the program are not acting on their previously held beliefs” manifests itself in a recidivist rate of merely 1 to 2%.[19]  Yet, recidivism does not gauge how a person has undergone cognitive de-radicalization—just that person may not associate with terrorists or engage in illicit behavior.  Disengagement, therefore, does not truly measure de-radicalization.

Like PRAC, the U.K.’s Prevent Strategy seeks to counter militant Islamist ideology.  Prevent’s ideological approach, however, finds its roots in British values—not Islamic theology.  When British Home Secretary, Theresa May, introduced the new Prevent Strategy in 2011, she placed it in the context of the previous strategy’s failure:  An inability to separate a policy of integration from a policy of counterterrorism.[20]  The past strategy had wasted too many resources trying to promote Muslim integration into British society.  To May, integration did not sufficiently counter radicalization; she asserted that a successful strategy needed to challenge the ideologies behind extremism and terrorism and confront them head on—not try to delegitimize them through greater cultural participation.  Prevent defines extremism as a “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs.”[21]

This values-based definition of ideology reflects political discourse of right-leaning European political parties that reject the concept of multiculturalism and see it as a failure.  Prime Minister David Cameron has lamented that multiculturalism encourages different cultures to live “separate lives.”[22]  He has also argued that Britons should confront multiculturalism with “muscular liberalism,” which he defined as an enhanced pride in British-based values of human rights, democracy, and individual liberty.[23]  Therefore, the Prevent Strategy and counterterrorism officials seek to challenge violent ideologies by asserting their own ideology and not challenging violent Islamist ideology within the framework of Islam.

When countering violent extremism, Prevent combines an ideological thrust based on British values with a strong sense of social welfare.  One component of Prevent, Channel, has gained notoriety for implementation of social services to identify vulnerable individuals through a program of awareness and identification.  Channel is a police-coordinated, multiagency partnership that evaluates the referrals of individuals deemed at risk of succumbing to the allure terrorism.  The government does not evaluate a referral based solely on an individual holding “political opinions of having a commitment to faith.”[24]  Rather, indicators include “expressed support for violence and terrorism; possession of violent extremist literature; attempts to access or contribute to violent extremist websites; possession of material regarding weapons and/or explosives.”[25]

The referral process draws upon a wide range of partners and its framework is similar to other social services provided by the British Government.  Statutory organizations include local authorities, police, youth offending services, social workers, housing and voluntary groups.[26]  This grassroots approach to countering violent extremism leverages previous frameworks for addressing social concerns such as child protection and domestic violence and its success depends on a strong rubric for referrals.[27]

Employing British society to identify vulnerable person requires training and awareness—not merely a rubric for referral.  In order to better edify the British public, Prevent also consists of an awareness campaign to help the British public better identify some of the warning signs mentioned above.  Prevent offers the Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent in both physical and DVD form.  This program covers issues such as “the history of terrorism, radicalization as a social process, connections to other forms of extremisms, the al-Qaida [sic] narrative and factors which may contribute to vulnerability.”[28]  Boosting awareness through education and employing social services represents Prevent’s strong insistence on social welfare while confronting violent extremism.

The latest rendition of Prevent does not offer any statistical backing to the claim that its predecessor failed.  Rather, May’s Prevent merely alludes to one of the major the controversies that followed the original CVE program.  In its executive summary, the Prevent Strategy addresses the notion that “there have been allegations that previous programs have been used to spy on communities… Prevent must not be used as a means for covert spying on people or communities.  Trust in Prevent must be improved.”[29]  While the government codified a commitment to building trust, the same allegations of spying have followed the latest version of Prevent.  For example, one of the communities tasked to identify vulnerable people, the British university system, rejects the notion of observing and referring people deemed vulnerable.  The British Union of Students asserts “We're happy with information and awareness raising [sic]; what we're not happy with is the idea that teachers and lecturers are going to be trained to monitor a specific ethnic group."[30]  Despite government efforts to alter the reception of Prevent, segments of the British public feel that the strategy creates “suspect communities,” which deludes the ability to evaluate a program.[31]  Allegations of government spying make the Prevent strategy quite difficult to implement and even evaluate.  Trust and the public’s reception of a CVE strategy are paramount to a CVE dependent on society’s awareness of and vigilance toward militant Islamist ideology.

Alienating a suspect community is an issue only confronting the multicultural society of a non-Muslim majority state like the United Kingdom.  Therefore, the Prevent Strategy has more difficulty than PRAC defining the ideology with which militant Islamists operate.  Due to prevalence of a political discourse that disparages multiculturalism, the creators of the newest rendition of Prevent sought to define violent extremist ideology in terms of mores with which they have familiarity—British values.  Although Prevent’s ideological approach is rooted in British culture, its application in a multicultural society risks alienating moderate Muslims that may not subscribe to every tenant of British values.

PRAC, on the other hand, has the luxury of an ideological approach rooted in Islam itself.  Being a Muslim majority state, Saudi Arabia did not run the risk of alienating minorities and therefore crafted a CVE program with strong theological roots. PRAC also exploits tenets of Wahhabi Islam by merging theology and civic responsibility as a path toward rehabilitation.  A rehabilitated detainee will respect the authority of the Kingdom as well as Islam.  The two vastly different ideological approaches employed by Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have national security ramifications for the United States as our nation institutes its CVE program.  The two case studies offer observers different approaches to an ideological framework in which to challenge militant Islamist ideology.

The United States can also observe the strong elements of social welfare in both PRAC and Prevent.  PRAC seeks to build a connection between the detainee and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by providing him or her with a wealth of social services—including counseling and financial support during incarceration.  Prevent seeks to identify vulnerable populations by educating the public and transposing the strategy onto existing frameworks of social services.  While the United States does not have the breadth of a welfare state like the one found in the United Kingdom, the United States can learn that CVE is a comprehensive attempt to stop terrorism and must utilize every facet of society to delegitimize violent ideologies.

Society also plays a large role in the success of a CVE program.  Prevent’s success depends on public support and participation in identifying vulnerable communities.  Like the United Kingdom, the United States is a multicultural society that celebrates the freedom of religion.  Therefore, CVE policy makers could learn about the potential cultural sensitivities and how to balance capacity building and alienation.

Finally, the United States can better evaluate its own CVE program by learning from the errors of PRAC.  While PRAC’s numbers seem impressive, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a major stakeholder in the program’s success, released these numbers.  Therefore, these numbers should not provide evidence of success until an independent agency verifies them.[32]  In a society as data driven as the United States, CVE policy makers should seek to hire an independent observer to ensure the policy’s success.  A true reflection of a policy’s success has great importance to the national security of our country.

An assessment of the two case studies found above will allow the United States to better calibrate its counterterrorism and countering violent extremism strategies.  Yet, one must wonder about the social welfare implemented by the two programs.  Does countering violent extremism belong in the conversation regarding the expansion of social welfare?  Is violent extremism merely a social scourge that government can cure by replacing the psychological and social voids of an individual previously inhabited by an ideology?  Counterterrorism studies would benefit from this type of approach and greater research into the social and psychological conditions that motivate individuals to assume violent ideologies like militant Islamist ideology.  Further research may also allow policy makers to make a cognitive shift away from the myopic prism of countering violent extremism as a threat to national security but view it more broadly as a social or public health concern.  A change in perception may allow practitioners to truly de-radicalize violent extremists.

The views expressed in this work are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of State, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Bibliography

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Aboul-Enein, Youssef H. Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Threat.

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010.

Awan, Imran. "I am a Muslim Not an Extremists": How the Prevent Strategy Has

Constructed a 'Suspect' Community." Politics & Policy 40, no. 6 (2012): 1158-1            185.

Bjorgo, Tore, and John Horgan. Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective

Disengagement. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Boucek, Christopher. "Saudi Arabia's 'Soft' Counterterrorism Strategy: Prevention,

Rehabilitation, and Aftercare." Carnegie Endowment for Peace: Middle East Program, no. 97 (2008): 1-27.

Collins, Laura. "England, Their England: The Failure of British Multiculturalism and the

Rise of the Islamophobic Right." the New Yorker, July 4, 2011: 28-30.

el-Said, Hamed. "De-Radicalisation Islamists: Programmes and their Impact in Muslim

Majority States." The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Poltical Violence, 202: 1-47.

Gallagher, Ryan. "Counter-Terror Strategy Faces University Opposition."

the Guardian, March 16, 2012.

the Guardian. "Extremist Groups Given Money from Anti-Radicalisation Budget."

June 7, 2011

--"Counter-Terrorism: Prevention and Cure." June 11, 2011.

Horgan, John. Walking Away from Terrorism. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Horgan, John, and Kurt Braddock. "Rehabilitating the Terrorists?: Challanges in

Assessing the Effectiveness of De-Radicalization Programs." Terrorism and Politcal Violence 22, no. 2 (2010): 267-291.

May, Theresa. Prevent Strategy. Government Document,

London: Her Majesty's Government, 2011.

McTernan, Oliver. "Prevent: Dangerous Policy Failure." the Guardian, May 10, 2011.

Porges, Marisa L. The Saudi Deradicalization Experiment. January 22, 2010.

www.cfr.org/terrorism/saudi-deradicalization-experiment/p21292

(accessed April 11, 2013).

Sedgwick, Mark. "The Concept of Radicalization as a Source of Confusion."

Terrorism and Poltical Violence 22, no. 4 (2010): 479-494.

Spalek, Basia, and Lynn Davies. "Mentoring in Relation to Violent Extremism: A Study

of Role, Purpose, and Outcomes." Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 35, no. 5 (2012): 354-368.

Vidino, Lorenzo, and Brandon James. "Countering Radicalization." The Internationl

Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, 2012: 79.

The White House, "Empowering Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the

United States," August 2011, Washington, DC. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/empowering_local_partners.pdf (Accessed April 11, 2013).

 

[1] Youssef H. Aboul-Enien, Militant Islamist Ideology:  Understanding the Global Threat, (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2010), 1.

[2] See the White House, “Empowering Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” Washington, DC. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/empowering_local_partners.pdf Accessed April 11, 2013.

 

[3] Lorenzo Vidino and James Brandon “Countering Radicalization in Europe” The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Kings College London, 2012, 7.

 

[4] This definition derives from a synthesis of scholarship that includes Vidino and Brandon’s definition and Mark Sedgewick, “The Concept of Radicalization as a Source of Confusion, “Terrorism and Political Violence, 22:4, 2010, 481.

[5] Vidino and Brandon, “Countering Radicalization in Europe,” 9.

 

[6] Vidino and Brandon, “Counter Radicalization in Europe,” 9.

 

[7] Hamed el-Said, “De-Radicalising Islamists:  Programmes and their impact in Muslim Majority States, The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, January 2012, 35.

[8] Christopher Boucek, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Soft’ Counterterrorism Strategy:  Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare.” (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008), 1.

[9] Ibid., 4.

 

[10] Ibid.

 

[11] Ibid.

 

[12] Marisa L. Porges, “the Saudi Deradicalization Experiemnt,” January 22, 2010. www.cfr.org/terrorism/saudi-deradicalization-experiment/p21292  Accessed April 11, 2013.

 

[13] Boucek, 11.

 

[14] Ibid., 14.

 

[15] Ibid.

[16] El-Said, “Deradicalising Islamists,” 38.

 

[17] Boucek, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Soft’ Counterterrorism Strategy,” 13.

 

[18] Ibid., 21.

 

[19] Ibid., 1, 23.

 

[20] The Guardian, “Extremist Groups Given Money from Anti-Radicalisation Budget,” June 6, 2001.”

 

[21] Theresa May, “Prevent Strategy,” Her Majesty’s Government, 2011, 107.

 

[22] Lauren Collins, “England, Their England:  the Failure of British Multiculturalism and the Rise of the Islamophobic Right,” the New Yorker, July 4, 2011, 28.

 

[23] May, ‘Prevent,”28.

 

[24] Ibid., 57.

 

[25] Ibid.

 

[26] Ibid.

[27] May, “Prevent,” 57.

 

[28] Ibid., 57.

 

[29] Ibid., 6.

 

[30] Ryan Gallagher, “Counter-Terror Strategy Faces University Opposition,” the Guardian, March 16, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/mar/16/counter-terror-strategy-university-backlash.

 

[31] See Imran Awan, “’I am Muslim Not an Extremist’:  How the Prevent Strategy has Constructed a ‘Suspect Community,’” Politics & Policy, 40:6 (2012), 1158-1185.

[32]  See John Horgan and Kurt Braddock. "Rehabilitating the Terrorists?: Challanges in Assessing the Effectiveness of De-Radicalization Programs." Terrorism and Politcal Violence 22, no. 2 (2010).

 

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Comments

Emile Nakhleh in Lobelog:

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalization program in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalized. Despite the relative success of his program, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

http://www.lobelog.com/looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/

I'd pair this reading with the following, if only because the world is what it is:

“This is very traditional to my eyes!” Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz was radiating approval as she walked into the Chanel’s purpose-built hangar-size showspace for the resort 2015 in Dubai last night. “To Western eyes, it might have read as an airy, ultramodern structure half-arrayed in CC latticework screens, but to fashion’s most visible member of the Saudi royal family, it was: “just like the tents we build in the desert. This feels like home!”

What better simultaneous translator of what was going down in Dubai last night could there be than the remarkable Princess Deena? A fashion retailer (she owns D’NA, two members-only stores in Riyadh and Doha), feisty wit, and a favorite target of street-style photographers during all the fashion weeks, she sat down to whisper her insider commentary on how Karl Lagerfeld was about to mix his Middle Eastern influences on the runway. “Ah! The makeup (dark blue, with dabs of gold), that’s very Bedouin!

http://www.vogue.com/866229/princess-deena-chanel-resort-show/

Many in the military (Or am I being unfair with this?) want to return to a world that doesn't exist, probably never existed. But at least one could make a plausible case for a kind of global American leadership in the past via forward presence. Today, others look at our contradictions and don't believe in any of it.

The only way to make people into believers again is to focus on us, to make us the envy of the world, not just in wealth, but in the way we conduct ourselves. A different strategy for a different age. It can't be perfect. It won't be perfect. We will work with many systems that are not ideal. But we can shut up about it, and be a bit more quiet and a bit more humble and bit more home focused. No one needs perfection. Just a few more reasonable choices.

Also from the Vogue article:

“Most of the time, at weddings there, you are with 1,500 to 2,000 women, all dressed. I’m telling you, it’s like something out of George Cukor’s 1930s movie The Women!”

I'm from flyover myself, so don't be upset, but how much of this kind of thing might impress someone sent from the US to deal with the regime, whether civilian or military? Even just hearing about it? I mean the entrance into a whole new world, the glamor, the secrecy, the "exotic" "orientalness" of it? You can read military attaché reports or memoirs from the early Cold War in, say, South Asia and there is a kind of quaint innocence and fascination with this exotic new world....

When the rich are allied with us, they are glamorous. When they come from a system in opposition, they are jumped up new money, oligarchs, and the rest....

It's odd. Much of moneyed DC has such terrible taste. For all that money, couldn't the thickened at the waist, dull suited and bespectacled (I should be careful here, a worried librarian look on my best days) floatsum and jetsam buy a little more radical and glamorous taste? Some time back, I actually watched a part of an awards show for defense and other contractors on YouTube. I believe Admiral McRaven (?) gave a key note speech or something, but it might have been someone else. Well, the uniforms always look good.

No, I'm not being my usually catty self. It's meant as a serious observation. Why the hunger for all the money if it's not even going to be spent 'properly'? A genuine question. I'm genuinely perplexed by the psychology of it all.

This is interesting. From Dawn, "Nayef: the prince who fought Al Qaeda":

Prince Mohammed also led a programme to rehabilitate Al Qaeda members who either surrendered or were arrested.

The programme has been both praised and criticised, as many militants who underwent rehabilitation found their way back to extremism, with some joining Al Qaeda in Yemen.

When he himself was attacked, the royal court described the bomber as a wanted terrorist who had approached Prince Mohammed under the pretext he wanted to give himself up.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1159104

Inconvenient. Or convenient. As the case may be.

Yeah, yeah, I'm no regime change type, I understand what could come after the monarchy might be much worse but the problem is we always go too far. Instead of a gritting of the teeth and a little quiet work behind the scenes, our system builds up "our guys" too much in the eyes of our own people (propagandazing your own people, all while making an oath to the Constitution!), makes a bigger case for cooperation than is possible with all kinds of major kissing up, and the rest of it.

Isn't there some middle ground?

From about a year ago:

Islamabad’s denial on Thursday came after a Saudi source stated on Sunday that Riyadh was seeking Pakistani anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets for the anti-Damascus insurgents in its intrusive bid to facilitate the overthrow of the government of President Bashar Assad, Lebanon-based newspaper, The Daily Star, reported.
.
"The reports about arms supply to Syria are totally baseless," said Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs.
.
Washington, however, is opposed to arming the mostly al-Qaeda-linked insurgents with such weapons, fearing that they may end up in the hands of extremist forces among the militant groups.
.
This is while Syrian opposition figures assert that the recent failure of the Geneva II peace talks seems to have led Washington to soften its opposition on arming the Syria insurgents with such armaments.
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The report further cites a Saudi source as saying that Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif paid a visit to Riyadh earlier this month and met with the Saudi regime’s First Prime Minister and Defense Minister Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

http://en.alalam.ir/news/1570452#sthash.9qufMURD.dpuf

Wheels within wheels. And the DC Consensus convinces itself it's so smart, it can maneuver anything, even when it never ever does. An entire foreign policy and military affairs built on the need to employ the Consensus. Nothing more, nothing less.

Poor Hussain Haqqani and the other Kerry Lugar Berman types. Civilian aid is supposed to help the American and Pakistani people but most American decision makers just view this stuff as a bribe to keep the Generals happy.

No, I think he was sincere and so are the other civilian aid types. William Easterly has a field day with them, but the money comes back to DC so people always pretend it works. Or are ideologically into it until they realize details matter.

Anyway, on merits, a lot of nation building aid just doesn't work but it's interesting, isn't it?

The right reflexively is all "military might!" and the left is all reflexively "State and aid!" and both are ideologues.

New America Foundation and its billionaire Silicon Valley patrons, I'm looking at you. Aid can militarize inadvertently. Or are you all just cozying up to the Chinese market the way Rupert Murdoch kept trying to do until he decided to make a bet on the Indians?

Wheels within wheels and rich guy foreign policy.

Ah, just ignore me. It's hard to follow since I'm just arguing with the voices in my head.

But I do better if I read on my own and ignore everyone else. Dunno why.

You know what one of the best oddball lenses to look at all of this is? The gossip pages and fashion magazines filled with the XX-type satisfaction of watching a rich guy get his comeuppance from the younger wife, the whole Rupert Murdoch marriage scandal.

Not kidding. Start with the gossip pages, the sheer bitchiness of it, and then into the deal making. Not a bad way to look at the whole Davos Murdoch New America Foundation politician stuff.

I am so not kidding. It's a hoot.

Even Clausewitz was flesh and blood and a man and his poor wife put together his papers didn't she?

The New York Times seems to have an intellectual battle on its hands, it produces articles that contradict one another--and I like that. I worry when they are too much in one direction or another....

A HISTORIC change of roles is at the heart of the clamor and turmoil over the collapse of oil prices, which have plummeted by 50 percent since September. For decades, Saudi Arabia, backed by the Persian Gulf emirates, was described as the “swing producer.” With its immense production capacity, it could raise or lower its output to help the global market adjust to shortages or surpluses.
.
But on Nov. 27, at the OPEC meeting in Vienna, Saudi Arabia effectively resigned from that role and OPEC handed over all responsibility for oil prices to the market, which the Saudi oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, predicted would “stabilize itself eventually.” OPEC’s decision was hardly unanimous. Venezuela and Iran, their economies in deep trouble, lobbied hard for production cutbacks, to no avail. Afterward, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of waging an “oil war” and being part of a “plot” against it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/opinion/sunday/what-happened-to-the-pr...

I don't know enough about oil markets to know what is correct. I've read both praise and criticism of this article.

Still, we are in a "we need to rethink things," phase aren't we? It's hard to be creative policy-wise, however, when so much is invested in a status quo--and sometimes for not altogether bad reasons.

Again, we shall see.

Justin Logan at CATO has an article, I believe, on the hyping of the Mid East as important, even with oil.

And yes, I am aware of the NATO critics of some of the CATO writers, some of it do with funding (not Justin Logan, just saying I try and follow money in different ways, that's all).

Here is the article. I like all contrarian arguments so you know that I enjoyed reading it:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/why-the-middle-east-still...

Of course the people matter, the people always matter. I guess editors pick out titles and it's more about policy elite obsessions than anything else.

But if the people really mattered, we'd be more interested in humanitarian aid than which regime we are going to knock off and where the bombs should drop.

Blogger Pundita once wrote a joking (half joking only?) blog post about how we needed space programs if only to divert those that made money of certain contracts. Divert them into space travel and space colonies or something....

At least get something out of it all.

Saudi Arabia is a big funder of the Clinton Global Initiative (Saudi Arabia is a big funder of a lot of things, so I wouldn't feel to0 smug about any of this no matter what end of the political spectrum I were on):

http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/funderprofile.asp?fndid=5382&category=79

Why am I posting this on a blog dedicated to military affairs? Well, I wouldn't have earlier on but now I've learned to look up every name of every military analyst that ever speaks on NPR or any news channel.

Yes, I really was that naive when I first started reading about all of this. Exactly that naive.

None of this is directed at the author of the article, it's a good article. But I'm from an academic world, roughly speaking, and academic discussion and jawboning is most of what I know about.

double post.

Peter Hitchens on "Some Reflections on Flying Flags at Half Mast,"

And so with a loud ‘clunk’, it all falls into place. Britain’s apparently mad foreign policy of the past few years now makes almost complete sense. It had seemed to me that a slavish desire to please the Saudi government lay behind our government’s desire to attack Syria. Well, I can see why we, as an increasingly indebted country with very few flourishing export industries apart from weapons and aircraft, might want to be on good terms with Riyadh, a limitlessly wealthy oil state with a large appetite for… weapons and aeroplanes. It may be an old excuse, but it’s perfectly true that if we didn’t sell them these things, someone else would.

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/01/some-reflections-on-flyin...

I'm sure he had his suspicions before, and the same applies to us Americans too.

In another comments section at SWJ, I'd pointed out that he made similar comments before (he refers to the older column in the current one):

Send any number of royal princes and politicians to Riyadh to be nice to them if it saves British jobs..
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But please, please stop pretending, at the same time, to be the apostles of liberty, democracy and the rule of law, in the Arab world or anywhere else. It's tiresome, stupid, an insult to the intelligence and it only gets us into conflicts for which we are (to put it mildly) not equipped.

More than one person has pointed out that this is a different age than the Washington Cconsensus is used to and the old tricks that they have learned as a collective--foreign policy shibboleths as if e=mc2--during the Cold War cannot work anymore.

A multipolar world.
Global communications.
Growing middle classes in the so called global South.
Global corruption related to huge licit and illicit money flows from globalization and black globalization.
Alternative medias giving a different narrative than government sanctioned narratives (yes, in the US too).

And so on.

The 'one standard for me, another for you' is hurting the US and our Western allies, hurting us very badly, and no amount of pretending will change the fact that historical ages have their owncharacter and events move forward in their own way.

The world isn't perfect, we can't make it so and we will have the need to deal with terrible, terrible people from time to time.

The least we can do is stop lying to ourselves but it's hard, isn't it, between the ideologues and those that are bought by foreign or contractor cash?

Is the Middle East so important to the US, even with oil? It warrants a rethink because quite a lot of cash is being spread around and it makes its way into different journalistic, think tank and policy nooks and crannies, and that cash is always to make the case that "this, this is important." NATO, Pacific Pivots, the Mid East, whatever.
The cash makes its way around.

Even with the need to protect oil from the Gulf, the behavior of we Americans is still suspect. It's more than is needed for such a basic problem set.

We shall see.

More food for thought:

According to the German "Rüstungsexportbericht" (Arms export report) 2011, Saudi Arabia placed 12th among the largest importers of German arms. They received military equipment worth 1.3 billion euros. But they are not the only country in the region to be supplied with weapons from Germany. Other recipients include United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria and Israel.
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The Middle East is one of the most highly militarized regions in the world, according to the Global Militarization Index (GMI). "You have to be very careful about who you're selling weapons to in the Middle East," warns armament expert Christian Mölling of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in an interview with DW.

http://www.dw.de/controversial-arms-exports-to-saudi-arabia/a-16602151

One way to dampen radicalism and conflict is to quit funding it. Easier said than done, I know, but it's nice to say it out loud once in a while.

I wrote in a comment to this article:

So far, the West--so to speak--has fallen into every trap: leveraging proxies to create more disorder and destruction which aids recruitment, speaking of a monolithic Muslim worldwhose particular grievances must be understood whether at home or abroad, highlighting terrorist atrocities in a way that gives a very special kind of attention to them and allows radicals to puff themselves up as true visionaries and successes, spending ourselves into debt creating internal economic problems, and so on.

I am happy to see various articles challenging the notion that there is a "monolithic Muslim world". This is language various Western intellectual and political traditions use without understanding where this language developed, from our various foreign and business engagements and the way in which we have been cultivated and how we have cultivated others. It's not that such a notion doesn't exist in various Muslim populations but the understanding is sufficiently diverse that we mirror those radicals we claim to be against when we use the words in that way.

Olivier Roy in a New York Times article makes the point that there is a Muslim POPULATION in France, and this is a better framing. The instinctive use of community is not supported by the facts on the ground, even if there is a sense that there is a larger community or umma. That sense, itself, means very different things to very different people.

And in the Huffington Post in an article entitle, "There is No 'Muslim World'":

Belligerent rightists demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Righteous leftists warn against bigotry and Islamophobia while affirming that Muslims, being overwhelmingly moderate people, have nothing to do with terrorism. And then you have the Bill Maher approach: urging Muslims to prove their overall moderation beyond simply condemning terrorism.
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It is a truly bizarre ritual, this rush to assess whether Muslims en masse are moderate or terror-friendly; and, in either case, to what extent.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ahmed-benchemsi/there-is-no-muslim-world_b...

The very political nature of Western democracies is such that it encourages the creation of communities in order to take advantage of a political system that is often numbers based and coalitional. So, communities are created and supposed leaders are created but these are complicated shifting things, not some static monolithic multi-headed creature.

And our dear allies in the Sunni Saudi Arabian axis are keen, certain factions anyway, to create this appearance more and more, to create cultures of guilt and radicalism and even when officials would like to control the worst of it, what do you do with the size of the monarchy, its many many families and the system of money patronage?

Barry Posen has said we have never really dealt with the fact that if there really is a violent attempt at an overthrow of the monarchy, worse than we've seen, we are now on the side of that creature and what does that do to the American position in the world? In the Mid East? In the eyes of various peoples? Because our system has not changed since the end of WWII we are now in a position where we defend a dangerous crumbling status quo and there is no win for it for us, or for anyone else. Oil or no oil.

You know what else I dislike about the community talk? It takes away from the beauty of the person in front of me. Look at him. Look at her. Never has such a person existed before and never shall the exact person exist again. Contemplate the awesome beauty of that fact. Don't give me bland made up communities from on high, inorganic and manipulated. Don't obscure the beauty of that view.

When I see the American media making an ass of itself by hyping a certain terrorist act, what I now do is this: I don't click on the link. I just don't even bother. Why should I? Why should I add to this madness and give attention? There are other ways to read and study and learn and be informed about the world.

Sure took me long enough to figure this out, that a quiet turning away from the shiny object is not such a bad thing. Not ignoring the world, of course, but why should some puppet pull my intellectual and emotional strings?

What is interesting to me is how "deer in the headlights" the CSPAN worthy think tank PhD culture during this shifting time, how little innovative or fresh thinking enters certain standard DC cliques. It's fear and lack of creativity, isn't it? But especially fear. If the world changes, what happens to your own position within it?

A problem for many people in the West as they think about navigating a changing multipolar world where we will still be rich but others will too.

Have confidence in our system and work on improving it internally, that would be the obvious answer and one most Americans would want. But not if you work in a certain world, then it's all fear, I suppose. Fear that what was supposed to be a forever thing is no longer so, the forever of the international relations think tank DC/Boston/Hopkins/Whatever axis of closed door thinking and patronage.

PS: Yes, I am aware there is fantastic original work being done. It isn't always entering the system, though, not the one where actual policy is being made? Or is it? I thought I read where a paper on ceasefires for Syria by Nir Rosen made its way to some officials, in November?

Factions are fighting for policy prominence and so we lurch here and there, forward and back.

In light of recent events, I was thinking about the intellectual fashion of focusing on non-state actors in terms of radicalism versus the various ways states contribute to this process, whether it is active or passive support. This fashion is quite useful as it allows various alliances to escape closer scrutiny.

Patrick Cockburn has written that the establishment in the UK (and others parallel this behavior) will often talk about small time local British radicals while ignoring the larger state support to the ideology of grievance rooted in sectarian affiliation, among other things.

In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. But despite this private admission, the U.S. and Western Europeans continued to remain indifferent to Saudi preachers whose message, spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube, and Twitter, called for the killing of the Shia as heretics. These calls came as al-Qa‘ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq. A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads: “Saudi Arabia: Anti-Shi’ism as Foreign Policy?” Now, five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-cockburn/war-on-terror-failed_b_56...

A fairly common pattern for states is to leverage local grievances and tie them to larger causes, and almost all states do this in one form or another, especially in the age of proxies that developed after WWII.

Whether during the Cold War, the post Cold War 90s, or the so-called Global War on Terror, the West too looks to its proxies and so exacerbates these tensions.

What is odd is that while doing this, the West also mirrors radical groups and ideology supporting states by, for instance, speaking of a larger "Muslim world" instead of talking about local conflicts as just that, local. Both radical groups and states like to play with identity in order to leverage it.

I posted this comment under a different article, but I think it belongs here as well:

So far, the West--so to speak--has fallen into every trap: leveraging proxies to create more disorder and destruction which aids recruitment, speaking of a monolithic Muslim world whose particular grievances must be understood whether at home or abroad, highlighting terrorist atrocities in a way that gives a very special kind of attention to them and allows radicals to puff themselves up as true visionaries and successes, spending ourselves into debt creating internal economic problems, and so on.

The internet seems so "over" and pathetic and important, all at the same time.

What has happened in the West? Why can't we have intelligent public conversations anymore?
The blogger Pundita has been talking about the early and uncertain science of the effects of the internet on the brain. What are we training ourselves to become? I am talking here about even public officials tweeting, and so on, and so reinforcing the action-reaction paradigm, being reactionary and ADD, instead of calm and careful.

I posted the following on another thread, and the American military faces the same problem today in terms of contradictory goals by various coalitional allies:

I look at the "CT-lite" option presented during the 2009 debate as basically trying to find an option based on various contradictory realities for the US in South Asia. The US is confused because it has taken on so many responsibilities, some of which directly contradict one another.

1. We want to get closer to India because of China, but....
2. We don't want to alarm China, but....
3. We would like to keep Pakistan as a strategic asset, but....
4. Our relationship with the UK given its Pakistan heritage population makes our own relationship with the Indians and Afghans and Russians difficult, and so on....

It was an attempt to provide an option that realized these contradictory realities. They would not change within the next year or two so it provided President Obama with one military option to obtain one military goal.

Same with this problem set, so nicely bequeathed to you all:

We want to get at Assad, but

We don't want to help Al Q or ISIS in Iraq, but

We want our NATO allies to help, but

Some of our NATO allies have a long history of serving as Western safe havens of radicalism (and we have done the same), but

Israel may also feel that Assad is worse than ISIL or Al Q,

And so on, and so on.

The military is stuck because you are both creating safe haven and fighting safe haven, creating jihadists, and fighting jihadists, helping Assad and hurting Assad, and well, we've been here before.

Is there a way to salvage something, the way a focus on Al Q and not the Taliban would have helped in Afghanistan?

Can you make something of this, or is there nothing to make given the contradictions and the, frankly, bat guano crazy of it all?

And this article too, which everyone is talking about:

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have ignited a "time bomb" by funding the global spread of radical Islam, according to a former commander of British forces in Iraq.
General Jonathan Shaw, who retired as Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff in 2012, told The Telegraph that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were primarily responsible for the rise of the extremist Islam that inspires Isil terrorists.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11140860/Qatar...

Why can't our retired generals talk like this?

I thought this Patrick Cockburn article might be of interest:

Mr Biden told a meeting at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics on 2 October that the Turks, Saudis and UAE “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons against anyone who would fight Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist element of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

For all Mr Erdogan’s disclaimers, Turkey still evidently regards Isis as a lesser enemy than Assad.

Mr. Erdogan and the Washington Consensus both. Leon Panetta, auditioning for a future President Hillary Clinton, says that if only we'd followed the Clinton State Department plan to arm the rebels last year, we might be fighting with our allies Al Q in Damascus today!

Oh, wait a minute, there is something wrong with that.

But we did arm the rebels and those weapons mostly....oh, never mind. No one cares. Carry on.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-on-the-verge-of...

PS: What is the political plan being tied to funding rebels against Assad? Do we want to topple Assad? Bring him (haha) to some bargaining table? Protect domestic flanks that say we are not doing enough to help the Syrian opposition? Bleed Iran? Keep Susan Rice and Samantha Powers from feeling embarrassed because they didn't get their way, those geniuses?

The idea that ISIS/ISIL/Al Q arose because of a "vacuum" without examining the larger picture is so typical of contemporary American discourse. While I appreciate this article and the author's position, I don't see how we can ignore the larger picture.

What happened to my other comment? Where did it go?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732342380457902445258304596...

A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad