By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
The White House has made a strong effort to downplay the apparent diplomatic snub that is Saudi King Salman’s decision not to attend this week’s Washington summit with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders. The Obama administration has indicated that they do not regard it as a snub and do not believe that the decision is in response to any substantive difference of opinion.
But it becomes harder to maintain such denials when one considers that the king of Saudi Arabia is not the only regional head of state who has declined the invitation to the summit. The Associated Press reported on Monday that most Gulf leaders will not be there, having elected to send minor delegates instead.
This surely reflects the general status of relations between the current US leadership and the Gulf States as a whole. Although still technically allies of the U.S. those countries don’t seem to take American friendship as seriously as they did under prior administrations. Neither do they put as much faith in U.S. leadership in the region.
This was clearly evidenced by Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. That operation coincided with the formation of an Arab defensive coalition largely focused on homegrown opposition to the expansion of Iranian influence in the region.
The message in this is clear. It is the same message that has been expressed by Israel through its opposition to the emerging Iran nuclear deal and in Israeli strikes on Iranian forces and proxies in and around the Golan Heights: the U.S. cannot be trusted to take action, so its allies must go it alone.
On one hand, this may be exactly what the Obama administration wanted. This may be the president’s notion of leading from behind and wielding soft power through regional partners. But there is a serious problem with this. The U.S. is not leading at all. Quite the contrary, we are in danger of losing strategically important footholds in the Middle East as our relationships become strained and weakened with traditional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Contrary to the Obama administration’s denials, there are enormous differences between the U.S. and its allies on substantive issues of global policy. What’s worse is that the administration is perceived as not only disagreeing with the Gulf States’ but also actively working against the policies that those nations consider safeguards to their security.
Last month, Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said pointedly that the United States had been “siding with Iran” in the Yemen conflict. Although the U.S. Navy did reportedly deflect an Iranian arms shipment intended for the Houthi rebels, this hardly makes up for the fact that the Obama administration has welcomed an Iranian role in whatever political solution might be reached there. Nor does it make up for the fact that the administration opposed Operation Decisive Storm from the beginning, and reportedly exerted pressure on Riyadh to bring it to an end.
The question that arises from all of this is why should the Gulf States listen to a U.S. administration whose Middle East policy includes the stated goal of making Iran a “very successful regional power”?
I leave it up to the Obama administration to attempt to come up with a plausible answer to that question. But in the meantime I would emphasize that the attendance list for this week’s summit strongly implies that the Gulf States are disinclined to listen to U.S. input at this time. And that is dangerous to the future of American security, authority, and power.
This week’s summit provides an opportunity to reverse this trend, but it is highly doubtful that the Obama administration will seize that opportunity. Doing so would require listening to the concerns of Middle Eastern allies, instead of beating them over the head with Obama’s naïve vision of a kinder, gentler Iran somewhere on the other side of a nuclear deal.
And of course the Gulf States are worth listening to because they know something the Obama administration apparently does not. They know that the aggression demonstrated by the Iranian regime in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere is part and parcel of that regime’s identity. Deference from the world community will only enable the further expression of that identity, to say nothing of the influx of cash that would come from the nuclear deal that is due June 30.
As Maryam Rajavi, the Paris based President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran testified recently before the US Congress recently “the Iranian regime has served as the main source of this ominous phenomenon in the region and across the world,” and “experience shows that in the absence of a firm policy vis-à-vis Tehran regime, there will be destructive consequences.
The current policy of rapprochement with Iran is a threat to traditional U.S. allies in the Middle East; it is a threat to U.S. relations with those allies; and consequently it is a threat to the security of U.S. interests in the region and beyond.
Worse still, the current U.S. policy is a threat to the people of Iran, in that it promises to preserve the life of a regime that might otherwise be overwhelmed by the fervent desire for regime change among its people. By preserving the Iranian regime’s influence beyond its borders, the Obama administration is preserving the regime itself and all the human rights abuses and extremist ideologies that come with it.
Current policy puts the U.S. on the wrong side of history – more so because it puts us on the side opposite our own allies and the advocates for human rights and democracy in Iran. In its naivety, the Obama administration appears to believe that it can preserve relations with old allies as well as being nice with Iran. But as the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq Al Awsat pointed out recently that close relations with both Iran and the Gulf States is an impossibility.
Obama must choose one or the other. Whether or not that is his intention, his perceived attitude will be interpreted not only by minor delegates from Gulf States attending this week’s summit, but also by those who simply cannot afford to ignore the immediate risks on their borders that emanates from the reality Iran’s continuing aggressive ambitions.
This article first appeared in The Hill Congress Blog