US Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Thoughts for Change

02/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The perfect storm that the U.S. and the world faces today stems in part from failed Middle East and energy policies over many decades. Throughout this period, the U.S. has traded national security and massive wealth for a steady flow of oil. Saudi Arabia, in return, has used billions of petrodollars to fund the expansion of its repressive Wahhabi-Salafist doctrine throughout the world and funded the terrorist activities of Palestinian groups like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and HAMAS. At the same time, the U.S. failed to stop the Mullahs in Iran from nuclear proliferation and sponsoring Hamas and Hizballah.

Saudi Arabia has funded the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy to spread Wahhabi-Salafism - the Saudi pseudo-religious political doctrine since the early 1960s. It paid for the indoctrination of generations of Muslims and extremist terrorist groups the world over. Yet, the U.S. has turned a blind eye and linked itself to the Saudis in an increasingly troublesome relationship - purportedly to resolve regional problems, but mostly to keep the oil flowing. Yet, as David Ottaway observes in his new book, "The King's Messenger," the Saudis are increasingly turning to Russia and China as their new oil and gas partners, dumping longstanding relationships with once-favored American oil companies.

Thus, the timing is favorable for the popular new president to change the hypocritical American Middle East policy that dates to Franklin D. Roosevelt. This failed policy has led successive American presidents to a counterproductive strategy of supporting oppressive regimes in return for oil flowing from the Middle East. The current situation risks collapse of the Saudi ruling family and neighboring autocratic regimes, leading to even further economic disaster faced by the Carter administration in the wake of the Iranian revolution.

For fear of offending the Saudi royal family, successive U.S. governments have hushed up reports that Saudi "charities" fund much of Islamist terrorism worldwide, including insurgents in Iraq, and Pakistani and Palestinian terrorist camps, and inflamed proxy wars against Shiite Iran and its surrogates, ever since the Shah was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. All that time, billions of dollars have been used by the Saudis to grease the palms of Washington lobbyists, bribe generations of former American ambassadors, retired generals, business leaders, former heads of state, and even members of the academy and the media who are directly or indirectly on Saudi/Gulf payroll.

It is time for change. Obama's unprecedented worldwide popularity gives him opportunity to make the necessary shift in both energy and foreign policies, which entail a radically new approach toward the Saudis. Accelerating alternative forms of energy would help limit Saudi/Gulf terror financing and their economic and political influence in the world.

In his inauguration speech, President Obama should declare the new strategic agreements the U.S. seeks with its allies to enforce a full embargo on Iran. This will lead to serious shortages of fuel and other necessities the Ayatollahs desperately need to placate Iran's rapidly growing restive population. Consequently, forcing the regime to halt its nuclear ambitions lessening Iran's threat to the region and its support for terrorism worldwide.

President Obama should also take all measures necessary to halt the sale of nuclear technology to any Middle Eastern country and put Russia, China and Pakistan on notice regarding serious sanctions for any type of cooperation with Saudi Arabia in its desire to obtain nuclear warheads for its long-range Chinese missiles.

To cut terror financing, the President should also declare a revision of the designation of "terrorist supporting states and organizations" to include every regime, including that promotes and funds terrorism. This should put the Saudis and the Gulf States on formal notice.

Saudi-led OPEC has dictated U.S. policies in the Middle East for too long. Moreover, the Saudi plans for the Middle East has brought us the PLO, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and most other regional religious based conflicts. It is time the U.S. government admits what has been clear for decades, that the Arab/Muslim states do not share Western values of freedom and democracy. This recognition is the necessary first step in developing a new strategy for the region.

Finally, to eliminate the second largest source of terror financing behind the Saudis, the new president should announce a plan to eradicate the production of heroin and cocaine worldwide. The illegal trade in these substances amounts to $1 - $2 trillion annually, funds the Taliban, Hizballah and North Korea, to name a few, and breeds misery, crime and corruption worldwide. An innovative technique designed to eliminate the active substance in plants, with no harm to the environment, has been developed during the Clinton administration but never used by him or his successor. It can be deployed if the new administration is willing to take action.

The new president should consider and embark upon this kind of bold thinking. Failure to change runs the risk of greater regional chaos. With unprecedented popularity, the new president has a unique opportunity for implementing these changes before the Saudi - America's one-time "strategic ally" shows its true colors as a "strategic problem" dictating the fate of the Middle East and beyond.


Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is Director of American Center for Democracy and author of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed -- and How to Stop It."

Colonel B. Wayne Quist, USAF (Ret) is coauthor of "The Triumph of Democracy Over Militant Islamism," PublishAmerica, 2006, and "Winning the War on Terror: A Triumph of American Values," iUniverse, 2005, with Dr. David F. Drake.