Destroying the financial roots of terrorism must be a priority for whoever wins the US election in November. Speeches condemning suicide bombers won't stop the radicalization of angry, marginalized young people; and carpet bombing suspected terrorist enclaves merely causes inconvenience. So long as wealthy individuals in the Arabian Gulf face no consequences for funding jihad, they will facilitate terror.
That means using America's leverage with the Gulf nations, of whom the US asks surprisingly little. As 4.6 million Syrians have fled violence, we have not pushed Saudi to offer refuge to its co-religionists and fellow Arabs. We have not demanded the Saudis make good on their post-9/11 promise to detoxify Saudi school books which foment racism and hatred of anyone who does not follow Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's hard-line version of Islam. We have not required the Saudis to purge its mosques and madrassas of clerics preaching intolerance and extremism.
But most urgent is the need to stop wealthy Gulf Arabs funding terror across the globe, whether it is through "charitable" donations to networks supporting ISIS and Boko Haram, or by supporting the thousands of ultra-reactionary mosques and madrassas worldwide nurturing grievance. Two events in 1979 have shaped Saudi policy: the failed uprising at Mecca and the Iranian revolution. The Saudi ruling family is terrified of being overthrown by its own people or attacked by Iran. Domestically, it claims legitimacy from the approval of the Wahhabi religious authorities. In exchange, the House of Saud turns a blind eye to the franchising of terror and jihadism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and anywhere that poor, disaffected young Muslims live]. The ruling House of Saud also depends on America to guarantee its safety in the event of conflict with Iran. This provides the US with enormous leverage, since America is no longer dependent on the Gulf for oil. Another point of soft power would be threatening to deny student visas to Saudis, who make up the fourth largest group of foreign students in the USA.
A good place for the next president to start would be requiring Saudi to stop funding both ethnic cleansing and the spread of jihadist ideology in Sudan. The ruling Islamist regime in Khartoum is kept afloat by money from the Arabian Gulf . Its leader is already indicted for genocide in Darfur where an estimated 400,000 people have died. Sudan's racist campaign of bombing and rape, "changing the demography," as they describe it, continues in a media vacuum. The regime has also bombed and starved its non-Arab and non-Muslim population in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states for the past five years.
All the signs are the rebels fighting the Khartoum regime are losing their long, asymmetrical battle. When their defenses collapse, millions more will flee the Sudanese armed forces and their brutal local proxies. This will put pressure on the already fragile region, precipitating even more migrants heading for Europe. Internet cafes in every remote village mean people can now see how comparatively peaceful and attractive the West is. Therefore, the new US president may find several more genocidal slaughters and mass movements of migrants, joining those already in motion in Syria and Iraq, in the Oval Office in box.
British-born jihadists, including one would-be mass murdered convicted on March 23 in London, have been radicalized in Sudan. Yet our diplomats obediently regurgitate the Khartoum authorities' assurances that they are on our side in the war on terror. But how likely is that, in a country conducting its own racist jihad against non-Arab and non-Muslim citizens? Why do we believe an openly Islamist regime that sheltered Osama bin Laden for years.
The theory goes that we let Saudi and Sudan off the hook because they pass intelligence -although we are never told what value this intelligence is - to our security services. But why would the very rulers embracing Islamist ideology wish to help us? Can their "intelligence" be worth more than the chance to stop the funding of global jihad? This magical thinking goes to the heart of the paradox of US policy. How can we expect Nigeria, Chad or Somalia to contain their local chapters of Al Qaeda, Al Shabab or ISIS, while allowing "our friends" in the Gulf to fund these franchises? It is worse than meaningless when our leaders tweet "bring back our girls" about the kidnapped Chibok girls, while allowing the Gulf authorities to turn a blind eye to the funding of terror. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are not free societies: their hyper-vigilant authorities know exactly who is wiring money to jihadist networks.
By all means Western leaders must use other forms of soft power to defeat jihadist ideology at home as well as abroad. They should encourage the countering of radicalism within their countries' Muslim communities, including supporting -and if necessary protecting- religious leaders who use theology to contradict the Islamists' narrative. But ultimately, we have to follow the money that has brought misery to Nigerians, Belgians, Parisians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Syrians, Iraqis, Spaniards, Thais, Turks and people closer to home.