By: Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Jeffrey Goldberg’s appraisal of the “The Obama doctrine”, that has caused a furore in response to the president’s scathing views on America’s Arab allies, has done us a favour. Now we know beyond question where we stand in the US global pecking order, which appears to be way down the scale of the Obama administration’s priorities.
Barack Obama no longer believes that the Middle East is “terribly important to American interests” but insists that the Saudis need to share the region with their Iranian foes in the form of a “cold peace”. Of great concern is his failure to disagree with his interviewer’s observation that he “is less likely than previous presidents to axiomatically side with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with its arch-rival Iran”.
That makes sense when he has evidently forgiven the past sins of both Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. It comes as Iran has been legitimised and enriched by the US-initiated nuclear deal.
I strongly second the published rebuttal of HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal headed “Mr. Obama, we are not ‘free riders’”. “You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its ‘destabilising activities” was his message to the US President.
Prince Turki rightly highlights that Saudi initiated the meetings that resulted in the coalition fighting the Islamic State (Daesh), offered ground troops, is assisting Yemenis to reclaim their country from pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, and has established a coalition to help eradicate terrorists from the planet.
I too, was appalled at Obama’s disrespectful opinions, especially those related to Saudi Arabia, but not surprised because they correlate with his actions and non-actions within the region. Rather than the “free riders” and “oppressors” he allegedly considers Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to be, it is beginning to look like we are the ones who have been taken for a ride.
In his much celebrated 2009 reach-out to the Muslim world at Cairo University, he called upon Muslims to join with the US in “a new beginning” based on mutual respect. He was flattering, acknowledging the contributions of Muslims to civilization while admitting many of his own country’s mistakes. He commiserated with Palestinian suffering and was later to pledge the creation of a Palestinian state was a goal he would actively pursue. He dropped that pledge at the first hurdle and it appears respect has become a one-way street.
It turns out the Cairo address was a con. When Goldberg asked Obama what it was meant to achieve, he said, “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel…I was hoping my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting – problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.” So it wasn’t a reach out at all; it was a lecture dressed in sweet-smelling roses.
According to Goldberg, the day he stepped back from his own red line on Syria’s use of chemical weapons was “the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment…but also the demands of America’s frustrating, high maintenance allies in the Middle East – countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American ‘muscle’ for their own narrow and sectarian ends.”
On the contrary, Mr Obama, it was America’s unwarranted muscle in Iraq that fuelled sectarianism which bore ISIS, and it was your intervention in Libya that helped create the armed militias and the feuding tribes creating a chasm between Benghazi and Tripoli that is being filled by ISIS fighters fleeing Syria. Bringing down the Syrian dictator who has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people and caused over half the population to flee their homes, would have been a just war, but you turned your back on the Syrian people.
As for America’s “high maintenance allies,” I would remind you that Arab troops were on the frontlines of Desert Storm and fighter jets from Saudi and other GCC states were in the air. A report by the Rand Organization tells us that the Kingdom paid over half of the costs of that war to liberate Kuwait, and as you know well, without Arab military purchases running in the billions of dollars, the coffers of US arms manufacturers would dramatically shrink.
Let us not forget too that America’s generosity to less wealthy Arab countries comes with strings. One must also question why you rapped Egypt on the knuckles for bombing ISIS in Libya if you are keen to see Arabs sort out their own problems.
Obama’s insults come fast and furious. He says his insistence that Arab and European states took the lead in striking Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya was to prevent them from “holding our coats while we did all the fighting”. He has questioned ‘the role’ played by “America’s Sunni Arab allies in fomenting anti-American terrorism,” and blames Saudi Arabia and Gulf states for Indonesia’s conservatively religious status.
Yet, he was one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s greatest cheerleaders in its quest to transform Egypt into an Islamist theocracy, overlooking anti-American statements by its leadership including this from the mouth of its jailed former Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who described the US as an infidel which “does not champion moral and human values and cannot lead humanity.”
Saudi Arabia and Gulf states have been close allies of the United States since 1945 when King Abdulaziz Al Saud joined President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board an American cruiser off Egypt’s shores to sign an oil agreement. Apart from a few minor hiccups, the relationship has always been warm and mutually beneficial.
However, when Obama was asked whether he considered Saudi Arabia a friend, he answered, “It’s complicated”. That certainly wasn’t the impression he left with GCC heads of state and high officials who accepted his invitation to Camp David where they accepted his assurances over the Iran deal!
In a world beset by increasing dangers, we need the US to retain its role as the global power as long as its policies are applied fairly and justly within our neighborhood. President Obama will be packing up to leave the White House in less than nine months. There will be few tears shed in my part of the world; he has let us down.
I can only hope that the coming Leader of the Free World will be more appreciative of our efforts to battle against terrorism and bring stability to the region. I trust that he or she will see Iran bathed in its true colours, assist us to free the downtrodden Arabs in occupied Ahwaz, release Iraq from its Iranian puppet government, Lebanon from Hezbollah’s stranglehold, and treat the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a priority. In short, America needs a president that leads from the front, not from behind – and so do we.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group