The Origin of the Fight Them Over There Strategy

On 3 August 2005, author Gerald Posner (Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection) was a guest on Air America Radio’s “Morning Sedition” program, where he talked to hosts Mark Riley and Marc Maron about Islamic extremists and terrorism.

One particularly interesting observation came after a question from Mark Riley about what benefit the Saudis get from not clamping down harder on the money hose. Essentially, said Posner, they prefer to fight them “over there” rather than at home.

Sounds like a strategy to me (my own transcript follows, you can listen to the whole interview by downloading the MP3 for that day’s show from Air America Place’s archive, this section begins at 1:38:19).

MARK RILEY: Now, Gerald Posner, we see on the one hand all that you’ve just talked about, uh, and about how the United States government will give the Saudi government, uh, a pass on some of these things, but on the other hand, we also see the Saudis funding, uh, uh, uh Wahabbist Islam, madrassas throughout the Middle East, in Africa, in southern Asia. How does the royal family benefit by allowing this kind of — because it’s a very tightly-controlled society, my assumption is the royal family could cut this money off tomorrow if they wanted to — how do they benefit by, by walking this line between being friendly to the United States but also being eh, essentially friendly to jihadists?

GERALD POSNER: Yeah. You know, Mark, you ask such an interesting question because they have this real schizophrenic relationship when it comes to this extreme form of Islam. I, I write about this in, in Secrets because the problem for them is that they founded this country seventy years ago together, uh, with the founder of Wahabbi Islam. I mean, it was a joint partnership, so it’s always been a country based on this extreme form of Islam to, uh, that really brings everything back to the fourteenth century, doesn’t like technology, doesn’t embrace the outside world. It’s the basis for fundamentalism and terrorism, no question about it. But over time, the royal family’s become more Westernized in many respects. It’s been [in] this partnership with the West and that’s why the real fundamentalists have turned against them.

But they believe — at the royal family level — that if they cut this money off, if they don’t fund the madrassas, if they don’t fund the hard-core Wahabbi Muslim clerics around the world in mosques, that they will have all of that form of Islam turn against them en masse and they will lose their power base in Saudi Arabia. Probably true.

So what they try to do is fund it outside of Saudi Arabia largely. They’re funding the madrassas; the schools that teach the next generation of suicide bombers in Pakistan; they’re sending money to America, to Britain, to southeast Asia, as you just said. And their view is, let it sort of grow around the world. Let’s be good Wahabbists in sending the money out, but let’s keep it outside of our borders.