Aftershocks: Saudi Arabia and America’s grand debacle in Afghanistan

Summary: the House of Saud is right to feel uneasy about what the US withdrawal from Afghanistan means for the security of their rule.

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2 thoughts on “Aftershocks: Saudi Arabia and America’s grand debacle in Afghanistan”

  1. I was curious about the final takeaway from Tuesday’s email: “Aftershocks: Saudi Arabia & America’s grand debacle in Afghanistan”.
    Very fascinating, although in general I found the Wikistrat report to be overly hawkish in arguing that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a bad idea, rather than acknowledging that 20 years and a trillion dollars spent on a failed war was the real policy failure.
    But to get back to the Arab Digest. You wrote the following, which I had never heard given as the main reason the US can’t pull out of Saudi Arabia:
    “The main reason the US can never pull out of Saudi Arabia is because of the unthinkable consequences of losing control of the Two Holy Mosques to Al Qaeda or another jihadist insurgency movement, and that is why US support for Al Saud, the Custodians, remains solid despite misgivings on both sides.”
    I’m a bit curious about this, since the US did pull out of Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2019. But I imagine you meant in terms of ending a close security relationship with the Al Saud. I agree that the end of the Al Saud regime would be very destabilizing for the whole region, likely generating levels of violence that would dwarf what we observe currently. But I don’t quite follow as to why preventing a jihadi group from controlling Mecca would constitute the main reason the US needs to support the Al Saud? Because of the threat of elevated terrorism this would pose to the US? Arguably, I think Iran, Turkey, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia probably would have a stronger interest in intervening to displace a hypothetical jihadi group that set themselves up as the custodians of Mecca. Do you think the rest of the umma would tolerate that?

    1. The US relies completely on Al Saud to control the messages broadcast to Muslims from the Two Holy Mosques and one of its key strategic interests in Saudi Arabia is to prevent a scenario in which a Jihadi group were able to seize control of the microphone. This is not because the US has more Muslims than any other country, but because of the grave threat this would present not just on the US mainland but to the global order generally. Most Muslims are located in Asia and Africa so one would expect most of the impact would be felt there and pro-Western Muslim governments might fall.
      Given the sensitivity of the Holy Sites and the ban on non-Muslims entering Mecca obviously the manner in which the US intervened (and associated media coverage) would have to be very carefully handled. First they would support the Saudis to regain control themselves using Saudi soldiers. If that failed US special forces could be converted to Islam to do the job like members of the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, the special operations unit of the French national police, were during the Grand Mosque siege in 1979.
      Alternatively, in a scenario in which Al Saud were obliterated and there was no regime left to support, as we noted in last year’s newsletter Egyptian and UAE forces are on stand-by at the Berenice air and naval base situated on the other side of the Red Sea from Mecca, less than 350 miles away, to intervene to secure the Holy Sites at any time.

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