Stopped Clock Dept.: The Saudis and the Sunni Insurgency

In one of the least surprising developments of the year, the LA Times discovers that nearly half of the foreign militants in the Sunni insurgency come from Saudi Arabia. Some of us predicted this more than a year and a half ago–or at least something close to it.

The Times’ reporting does not take a stand on whether the Riyadh government is facilitating this. But read a little between the lines:

1) The only US source defending the government is an unnamed intelligence official.

2) The White House and the State Department refuse to comment on the story.

3) The spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, a body not known for its commitment to Jeffersonianism, “defended the right of his citizens to travel without restriction.”

4) The article refers specifically to the Saudis’ engagement with Hamas as undermining US foreign policy efforts.

In one sense, it’s quite hard to blame the Saudis if they are facilitating the Sunni insurgency. The Saudi government’s legitimacy relies on Sunni fundamentalism. It’s chief oil-bearing region, in the northeast of the country, is heavilty populated with Shiites. A Shiite-dominated Iraq could be a threat its existence–or at least it’s not unreasonable for the Saudis to think so. They are thus sponsoring a counterweight to the Shiites.

But it is quite easy to blame a feckless and blinkered US administration for not seeing that this would happen, not making contingency plans for it, and insisting on the simplistic “good versus evil” formula of US foreign policy. On this issue, as on so many others, the administration is looking like a deer in the headlights–and American soldiers are dying as a result.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.