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Scott Sulllivan:
Obama can co-opt al-Qaeda


President Obama is wrong to view al-Qaeda as the main threat to US policies in the Middle East. In reality, Saudi-sponsored terrorist groups like al-Qaeda pose a relatively small threat to the US because they lack robust conventional forces that could confront US forces in the Middle East.  Moreover, al-Qaeda lacks a professional intelligence service that can predict wih confidence the political consequences for the Middle East from al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the US.   In particular, al-Qaeda wants to know with absolute precision if its terrorism will drive the US towards a pro-Ryiad stance in hopes of shoring up Saudi Arabia, or towards an anti-Ryiad stance because the US would blame the Saudis for al-Qaeda's terrorism.   Osama and al-Qaeda refrained from staging a second major attack on the US in the post 9/11 era largely because they could not this question. 

Al-Qaeda is also reluctant to attack the US because its leadership consists of highly devout Sunni Muslims who fear that Sunni anti-US terrorism could backfire by boosting Shi'ite Iran, beginning in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda had its first big victory by driving the Russians from Afghanistan.  Al-Qaeda anticipates a second big victory by driving US forces from Afghanistan.  However, Al-Qaeda is beginning to worry thatg the fruits of its second victory in Afghanistan will be stolen by Pakistan and Iran, who are now collaborating against al-Qaeda to dominate Afghanistan as the US pulls out. 

In fact, Pakistan and Iran have already opened discussions with certain Taliban factions who are willing to accept a robust Pak-Iranian presence in Afghanistan's central government, as the US withdraws its forces.   Even more worrisome from al-Qaeda's perspective, Pakistan and Iran have long and heavily populated borders with Afghanistan, and are reportedly discussing joint plans to partition Afghanistan!

Al Qaeda knows that its collaboration with Iran and Pakistan in Afghanistan is coming at a a very bad time for the Saudi leadership.  Saudi-Iranian relations are at a boiling point because of confrontations on wide variety of issues, not just Afghanistan.  The Saudis are furious at Iran's partnership with the pro-Iran Muslim Brotherhood to displace Saudi influence in Egypt. The Saudis are furious at Iran's collaboration in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish groups,  where Iran intends to bring down to weaken Bashar's al Assad's pro-Arab government.  The Saudis are furious at Iranian collaboration with the Kurds in Iraq, where Iran hopes to bring down Iraq's pro-Arab government.  Finally, The Saudis are furious at Iran's aggression against Bahrain, where Iran hopes to sponsor a popular revolution by Bahrain's Shi'ite majority against the Saudi-dominated government.

Finally, if Obama wants to moderate al-Qaeda's policies, he can turn to the Saudis for support. The US, Saudi Arabia, and al-Qaeda colloborated against the Soviets in the 1980's, and may find a way to collaborate against Iran and Pakistan today.

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Scott Sullivan is a former Washington government employee and was the Senior Advisor for International Economics at the Crisis Management Center of the National Security Council, 1984 - 1986. Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.


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Petroleumworld News 05/16/2011

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