The implications of promoting the transformation of Saudi Arabia from financial empire to military empire are vast and unpredictable, but one thing is certain: whether the Saudi elite takes on its old persona as the source of Salafi extremism or adopts its new persona as regional policeman, the further stimulation of Mideast chaos is the entirely predictable short-run outcome. Whether you think aggravating chaos across the Mideast by empowering the fundamentalist authoritarian rulers of Saudi Arabia will be good or bad for the security of the American people is a judgment call, and your judgment is likely to be influenced by your attitude toward the choice between authoritarian and democratic government.
The real swamp in Washington is the vastly profitable collusion with Sunni extremism (extremist dictators who alternatively if not simultaneously promote and provoke extremist Salafis). The dictators get protection (from external enemies and domestic democrats), global status, and personal wealth. The West gets oil, bases, personal wealth for the elites, war (which, in certain circles, can burnish a resume), and—as the direct result of the endless war–all the justification for repressing domestic dissent an authoritarian could desire. Between these two groups stands the crucial third group, those Salafi jihadis the dictators pump up and push out. These precious jihadis serve three purposes: 1) they propagate the messianic version of Sunni Islam that constitutes the core justification for the Saudi regime’s family rule, 2) they provoke conflict with Shi’i Islam to destabilize the Mideast to create opportunities for the expansion of Saudi influence, and 3) they frighten the West into doing Riyadh’s bidding.
Trump just dumped a cool $100 B into this swamp, thus becoming a card-carrying member of Riyadh’s loyal Potomac pool club of political fish and arms merchant fish…a club that of course managed to sign up that other President so admired by Trump: one Barack Obama.
Whatever one may think of the efficacy of Trump’s domestic policies, he has just had a tremendous impact on the Mideast with his $100 B in arms plus his rhetorical calls for attacking “extremism,” by which all will understand that he means those who refuse to swim in the swamp. Specifically, the world can count on rising Saudi-Iranian tensions, a further empowerment of Iranian state extremists in the IRGC as they react to Saudi pressure, a further empowerment of the new state extremist faction in Riyadh favoring military expansion (tested in Bahrain and now proudly on permanent display over Yemen), the continuing collapse of Yemeni society, further authoritarian crackdowns against democracy advocates in Bahrain, further conflict in Syria, as well as intensifying ripples of religious conflict in Iraq and Pakistan. Most of all, the world can count on the prolongation of the great saga of Salafi jihadi violence, invigorated—as always—by state repression and societal chaos.