If you’ve ever questioned the integrity of the intent of the Obama administration in the Middle East, you’ll get a kick out of the geography skills of the senior officials of his administration.
In a “Background Conference Call on the President’s Address to the Nation,” conducted via telephone at 5:44 P.M. EDT on 10 September 2014, an unnamed “senior administration official” (so you know he’s important) insists that Saudi Arabia views ISIS (“ISIL,” “Islamic State,” etc.) as an “existential threat” because “Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria.” I kid you not.
The statement appears in the following segment, taken from the government’s official transcript.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I guess I would just add one thing on the coalition question — and I think this is important to really focus on, which is to say, in discussions with governments in the region, notably the Saudis and the Jordanians, what is clear is that we have a very common view of this threat. And this is really quite unusual.
ISIL has been I think a galvanizing threat around the Sunni partners in the region. They view it as an existential threat to them. Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria. The Jordanians are experiencing a destabilizing impact of over a million refugees from the Syrian conflict, and are profoundly concerned that ISIL, who has stated that their ambitions are not confined to Iraq and Syria, but rather to expand to the broader region.
And what I also heard is that our partners in the Sunni moderate governments in the region agree on the need for a comprehensive strategy. They are quite concerned about the hundreds of foreign fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq from their own countries, and the potential for them to come back to their countries. They’re concerned about the financing. And they’re quite concerned about the, frankly, warped version of Islam; and in fact, it is not Islam that ISIL is promoting. And you saw statements from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia condemning ISIL.
So what we have here is a galvanizing threat from ISIL that is I think leading our Sunni partners in the region to join us along the range of potential capabilities that my colleague mentioned.
For the geographically challenged, here’s a map of the modern Middle East:
Yes, sometimes people make mistakes and say what they don’t actually mean; we all do it. This is more than just a simple blunder, however. This is a “senior administration official” who is exaggerating a present danger in order to justify working with what is a repressive, far-right Wahhabi state that is itself responsible for supporting much of the “Islamic” extremism in the Middle East and North Africa.
Don’t get me wrong; ISIS is a horrific, despicable organization, and it certainly a threat. It is indeed also a threat to the Saudi monarchy—again, a draconian, repressive, conservative regime very close to the US government—but it is not the “existential threat” Obama’s administration is making it out to be (unless of course, by “existential threat,” these officials mean “existential threat to the Saudi monarchy”—which is in fact what they do mean). By describing things as worse than they actually are, US officials are conceiving of imaginary “existential threats” where there are none.
Yes, ISIS is a threat (especially to those living in the region) and must be defeated, but working with the most extreme, Salafi government in the world—the same government that has in fact been supporting this kind of “Islamic” terrorism throughout the region—is a pretty ineffective and counterproductive means of doing so.
And, besides, if “senior administration officials” can’t get basic geography right, I tend to have some reservations about any geopolitical analysis and policies they might propose. Some rather enormous reservations.