Though August is supposed to be slow for news, the young month has already seen two extraordinary events. Both have largely flown under the radar, but each has important implications for United States national security—and together they expose a deep flaw in US foreign-policy strategy: a reliance on repressive and autocratic Persian Gulf states in the name of fighting terrorism.
First, the Associated Press released an in-depth investigation into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ relationship in Yemen with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)—the branch experts believe poses the most credible threat to Americans at home. The AP found that, for years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s alleged “counterterrorism” strategy has been to directly aid AQAP’s resurgence by cutting deals with fighters—paying some to relocate, and recruiting other Al Qaeda operatives into the Saudi-led coalition’s separate fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war. Unsurprisingly, as the investigation reveals, these deals are not helping to combat Al Qaeda, instead making the United States Al Qaeda’s de facto ally (and air force) in Yemen.
In a second piece of news, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, suspended new trade ties, canceled state airline flights to Canada, and directed 16,000 Saudi students in Canada to seek education elsewhere. All this because Canada criticized Saudi Arabia’s recent jailings of human-rights activists. The over-the-top backlash didn’t stop there—a Saudi pro-government Twitter account then proceeded to tweet out an infographic (since deleted) of a Canadian jetliner flying toward the Toronto skyline, with a seemingly menacing suggestion that Canada’s comment on Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs could have dire consequences. “He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him,” read the tweet, referencing what it said was an Arabic saying.