CAVAN HOGUE. Trump and the Wahhabis

May 23, 2017

President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia does not sit well with a demand to fight the Wahhabi inspired terrorists but support for a dictatorship that suits American commercial and strategic interests is a long standing US practice. We may wonder whether getting involved in religious disputes is a good idea. 

President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is new in that it is the first trip overseas to Saudi Arabia which is unusual for a US president but much of the rest of it is not new.

Trump has chosen the home of the Wahhabi sect to launch his campaign against terrorists. Saudi Arabia is where the fundamentalist puritans of the Wahhabi sect originated and is the spiritual and intellectual inspiration for al Qaeda, ISIS and all the others o their ilk. The Saudis are also involved in some very dubious military activities in Yemen and elsewhere not to mention their domestic human rights record. No doubt some of the weapons they are buying from the US will go to further these activities and might even end up in the hands of some extremist group.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the US support for a rough dictatorship. They shouldn’t be surprised. The US has a long history of supporting dictators in Latin America and elsewhere: Guatemala, Nicaragua and Chile to mention just a few where democracies have been replaced by military dictatorships.  As Franklin D Roosevelt said of the brutal Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, “I know he’s a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch”. No doubt Mr Trump takes the same view of Saudi Arabia. Western support for human rights is very selective. The arms sales are good for American jobs which was a core promise so where those arms presumably doesn’t matter.

Trump has also effectively taken sides in the Sunni versus Shia conflict by lining up with the Sunni Arabs against the Shia in Iran and Syria. Getting involved in other people’s religious disputes is not always a good idea. At least he is backing the majority this time!

Cavan Hogue was former Australian Ambassador to USSR and Russia

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