People have called Mr. Trump countless things, but a student of history is not one of them. Nothing makes this more evident than his recent tweets regarding Qatar. One thing is clear, Donald Trump has immediately bought into the narrative that Qatar is primarily responsible for the funding of terrorism. It seems he thinks an issue like extremism in the Middle East is simple enough to figure out with one state visit to Saudi Arabia. However, the history of this issue is much more complicated than that.
The Largest Concern is the Saudis
On his first state visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump seemed to be oblivious to the rocky history the Saudis have working with the United States to combat extremism. It appears he thinks Saudi Arabia is without fault or in need of reforms.
What he might not know is the Saudis have had their issues with exporting terrorism in the past. They have made strides, but the problem persists.
As recently as April of 2017, reports said Saudi Arabia has the second largest number of citizens that travel to join and fight for ISIS. That number is roughly 2,500 people. They also have their issues with funding terrorist organizations. The current king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, was once the lead fundraiser for the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and extremists in Bosnia during the 1990s in the Balkans.
Why then has our “partner and ally in the Middle East” been another part of the problem in the region?
The Root Cause
All of this comes down to the heart of the issue, and that is the ideology. The extremist’s views of terrorist groups are rooted in Wahhabism, a version of Islam that has been the prominent interpretation in Saudi Arabia over the last two centuries. It preaches a literal interpretation of the Koran. It also teaches violence against Jews and Christians, which to the vast majority of Muslims does not belong in the 21st century. It has been called the base ideology of extremist groups like ISIS, the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Sunni Islam.
President Trump must learn this aspect of the fight against terrorism as quickly as possible. The more he persists with this apparent ignorance of a fundamental issue with Saudi Arabia, the harder it will be for the United States to combat the root of the problem, the ideology.
ISIS, AL Qaeda, and others have taken this thinking and weaponized it. As long as the Saudis export Wahhabism to others in the region, there will be violent extremism. Mr. Trump should remember that when he attacks other nations on twitter.