"... Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S. forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra -- the Saudi government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria is worth the inherent risk....There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be able to break the arc of Shiite influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.
Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey, where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with fresh troops.
The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as "tactical Darwinism" the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.
But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah's fall in 1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was egregious.