Is the Arab world finally ready to crack down on terrorism?

While we’ve had plenty of outrages to keep us hopping on the domestic front, some interesting things have been going on in the Arab world, particularly in Saudi Arabia. The ascent to power of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has really been shaking up the power structure over there and this weekend he caused yet another stir. Assuming he’s good to his word and can get the majority of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors to buy in (a big assumption to be sure), the prince plans to “wipe out” Islamic extremism and terrorism from their lands. (Yahoo News)

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince vowed to “pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth” as officials from 40 Muslim countries gathered Sunday in the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance.

“In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries… with no coordination” among national authorities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi defence minister, said in his keynote address to the gathering in Riyadh.

“This ends today, with this alliance.”

The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which officially counts 41 countries and identifies as a “pan-Islamic unified front” against violent extremism.

If we were to take Prince Mohammed at his word, this would be fantastic news in terms of the war on terror, but it also complicates an already dizzying mess on the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Keep in mind that almost all of the countries who have signed up for this alliance are the Sunni ruled or at least Sunni-majority nations. They’re purposely cutting a number of Shiite ruled countries out of the action, including Iran, Iraq and Syria. Also on that list is Qatar, which has been the target of a boycott by the Sunni states for much of this year.

This complicates things for the United States and Europe because while we are constantly at odds with Iran and Syria, we’re supposedly in a close relationship with Iraq and frequently make use of Qatar’s diplomatic reach when dealing with tricky situations. Much like the current situation with Turkey, our interwoven, shifting network of allies and potential enemies in that part of the world just continues to grow more and more complicated.

It’s also worth asking just how much real cooperation we’re going to see from Saudi Arabia and how much of it is window dressing serving their own purposes. I probably don’t need to remind you where most of the 9-11 highjackers came from. The “official policy” of Saudi Arabia when they want to make nice with their global oil customers is not always an exact fit for what’s going on under the covers.

One thing missing from this coverage is the involvement of the White House. It’s true that Mohammed bin Salman has been working on this partnership since 2015, but things really kicked into gear when President Trump met with all the leaders of the alliance during his first trip abroad during this administration. It was one of the key goals he set forth at that time. The media reaction back home was predictable, though. You may recall the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum describing the trip as, “bizarre, unseemly, unethical and un-American.

We’ve dumped a lot of resources and political capital into this alliance already. If Prince Mohammed pulls this off, it’s not going to look quite so unseemly and unethical after all, now is it?

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