April 20, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6027

Prominent Gulf Journalists In Response To Obama Statements In 'New York Times' Interview With Thomas Friedman: Obama Exaggerates Gulf States' Domestic Problems, While Downplaying Danger Posed By Iran To Region And To Iranian Dissidents

April 20, 2015
The Gulf, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 6027

In an April 5, 2015 interview with Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, U.S. President Barack Obama remarked, in reference to the need to protect the Gulf states from the threat posed by Iran, that these countries may be more threatened by internal dissatisfaction within their societies than by their neighbor across the Gulf. He said: "[T]he biggest threats that [the Gulf States] face may not be coming from Iran invading. It's going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries." He clarified that he meant the dissatisfaction of "populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances." [1]

These statements sparked outrage in the Gulf states, which were already furious with the U.S. administration for its negotiations with Iran and apprehensive about a prospective deal between Iran and the superpowers. Editorials and articles by prominent columnists lambasted Obama for his statements. They wondered how Washington, which for years regarded Iran as a bitter enemy, could suddenly change it tune and see it as non-threatening country and even reward it by making an agreement with it. They also stated that, despite Iran's extremist character and its dangerous interference in the Arab world - manifested in sending forces and terrorist cells to Arab countries - the U.S. was being apologetic and benevolent towards it, while showing a harsh and unyielding face to the Sunni Arab world. One writer also pointed to the fact that Obama refers to entire Arab states as being "Sunni," yet refrains from describing Iran as "Shi'ite." The writers claimed that Obama does not understand the true situation in the Arab world, and one of them remarked that he is "confusing things to the extent that he has shifted the concepts of peace and war."

The articles conceded that the Gulf states have internal problems that must be addressed, but stressed that these problems pale beside the external danger posed by Iran. They accused Obama of exaggerating the scope of the domestic problems in the Gulf countries, and some said that his statements could exacerbate these problems instead of helping to solve them. They also wondered why Obama did not lecture Iran, instead of the Gulf countries, about the need to make domestic reforms.

Some of the columnists wrote that the Arab states were mistaken in trusting the U.S. to protect them and that they should henceforth rely on their own resources. 

The following are excerpts from some of the articles.

U.S. President Barack Obama with Thomas L. Friedman during the interview (image courtesy of the New York Times)

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Editor: It Was Washington That Labelled Iran Part Of The 'Axis Of Evil'. So How Can Obama Now Say That It No Longer Poses A Threat To Its Neighbors?

Salman Aldossary, the chief editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote in an article titled "Does Obama Understand 'Sunni Arabs'?":[2] "Not only did Obama crown his two terms in office with a ÔÇ£historicÔÇØ vague deal with Iran, but he gave Tehran a free hand in Iraq, turning a blind eye to the activities of the Popular Mobilization forces that operate under the command of Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Not only has [U.S. President Barack Obama]  turned over a new leaf with Tehran, he is even issuing statements on its behalf, going so far as to tell 'Sunni Arabs' that Tehran does not pose a threat to them and instead telling them to focus on 'real internal threats' according to a New York Times interview. What is strange about the interview is Obama's frequent use of terms like 'Sunni Arabs' and 'Sunni countries.' These are expressions that betray sectarian over-simplification; while he refers to whole states as being 'Sunni,' Obama falls short of describing Iran as a Shi'ite country. I wonder what other surprises Mr. Obama has up his sleeve.

"It was Washington that labelled Iran as a member of the so-called 'axis of evil' and a country that sponsors terrorism. It was Washington that warned the world against dealing with Iran, imposing economic sanctions on Tehran and regarding it as an arch enemy. So, after all this, how can the US president now come out to say that Iran no longer poses a threat to its neighbors? Does the signing of a nuclear framework deal negate this threat?...

"If only Obama had not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize during the early days of his first term in office. Ever since he received that award, the US president has been confusing things to the extent that he has shifted the concepts of peace and war...  

"Mr. President, no one denies there are challenges within Gulf societies that deserve to be addressed by their governments lest they escalate further... However, exaggerating those challenges to the degree of characterizing them as '[public] discontent' and claiming that this represents a greater threat than Iran's regional policy is an argument unworthy of the leader of the world's most powerful country."

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Former Editor: "Obama Is Always Wrong On The Middle East"; Why Doesn't He Lecture Iran For Suppressing The Green Movement?

Tariq Alhomayed, also a former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote in an article titled "Obama Is Always Wrong on the Middle East":[3] "In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather 'internal threats.' Can this be true?

"The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.

"Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad's crimes. He talked about 'red lines' but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country's intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier...

"Obama also gambled, for years, on political Islam being a successful model in the region. This failed, of course, and the Islamists failure has had a long-lasting effect on the entire region following the so-called Arab Spring.

"Obama's mistakes go beyond this, and we now see him making yet another one today. This misjudgment that will have serious, adverse consequences for the Middle East.

"So, Obama thinks that the threat to the region is not Iran, but rather an absence of internal reform. This is simply wrong, and demonstrates worrying double standards.

"In 2009, when Obama was already in office, the 'Green Movement' broke out in Iran. The Iranian authorities violently suppressed the protests, including through the force of arms. Many protesters were killed, and many more arrested. All the while, Obama looked on and did nothing. Indeed, some leading members of this revolt remain behind bars until today. Since then, Iran has not carried out any significant internal reform. During the same period, Gulf statesÔÇöand particularly Saudi ArabiaÔÇöhave moved forward with the internal reform process.

"More than this, we can clearly see Iran's threatening action in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. This is not to mention the terrorist sleeper cells with ties to Iran that have been uncovered in the Gulf.

"So, after all this, how can Obama say that the threat does not come from Iran, but rather from 'internal threats?' We can ask many questions regarding this perplexing view: Who is responsible for all the sectarian crises and conflicts in our region? Isn't it Iran? Who disrupted political reform in Iraq? Who disrupted the Lebanese presidential election? Who is protecting the tyrant of Damascus Bashar Al-Assad?

"The aim of this op-ed is not just to respond to Obama's comments and paint a clearer picture regarding what is happening in the region. We must also take a deep breath and acknowledge that some of our regional states, particularly the moderate ones, have made mistakes.

"Why haven't we seen them leading a diplomatic offensive in Washington in order to explain and clarify our position? Why have we seen this corresponding slow-down in the pace of reform and development in our countries?...

"Ultimately, we must look to ourselves. Where are moderate Arab states on these issues? Where is our diplomatic response? Why have we failed so badly in the game of influence and lobbying in Washington?"

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Former Editor: 'Tehran's Mentality And Practices Are Close To Those Of Al-Qaeda... [Yet] Obama Was Apologetic Toward The Iranian Regime And Generous With His Gift Of A Nuclear Agreement'

'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the former director of Al-Arabiya TV and former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote in the daily's English edition under the headline "Contradictions in Obama's Doctrine": I tried to ignore US President Barack Obama's interview with the New York Times because I was sure it would be part of his propaganda campaign for the framework nuclear deal with Iran. Still, the interview's impact cannot be ignored. Rather than calming the fears of those in the Gulf region, Obama has provoked many here...

"What's strange about the conversation was that Obama commended the Iranian regime, justifying its actions and implying a sense of guilt over what the US had done against Iran.

"I don't know what books the American president reads before he goes to bed or how he understands the events of the past three decades. Tehran's mentality and practices are close to those of Al-Qaeda: religious, fascist and hostile towards anyone who opposes their ideology. Tehran's understanding of the world considers others as either believers or infidels. It is Iran that was responsible for much of the violence in the region under the banner of religionÔÇöand this was around 15 years before Al-Qaeda even emerged.

"In as much as Obama was apologetic toward the Iranian regime and generous with his gift of a nuclear agreement, he was harsh toward Arabs, and his severity was unjustified. For example, he said that instead of worrying about the threat posed by Iran, Arabs must stand against the crimes of Bashar Al-Assad.

"To be frank, I read this paragraph more than once and tried to put it in to context, yet I failed to understand what seemed to me to be contradictions. The crimes of the Assad regime, which have led to the deaths of a quarter of a million people and displaced more than 10 million are the direct result of the support and interference of Iran, the country that Obama is apologizing to and commending.

"Obama criticizes Arabs because they have not fought against the Assad regime, when in fact it's his government that prevented them from using advanced weapons to confront Assad's tanks and stop Assad's warplanes that have shelled Syrian cities every day!

"For four years now, the Syrian rebels have been defending themselves against Assad's forces by using low-grade arms such as Kalashnikovs and mortarsÔÇöthis is because the US prevents them from buying and attaining more powerful weapons from any other party.

"Then Obama criticized his Gulf allies by saying their problems are domestic, as a result of a lack of satisfaction among their people, as well as the presence of extremism, terrorism and unemployment. Of course, this is all true and no one denies there are domestic challenges. However it does not mean the Gulf will not voice its irritation at the agreement the Americans reached with Iran that gives Tehran free rein in a manner that threatens the Gulf.

"There's no contradiction here. These domestic and external concerns do not contradict one another. To illustrate the point: it would not make sense for us to tell the American president that he does not have to worry about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda because he has internal problems such as unemployment and inadequate healthcare.

"As Arabs, we are not against Obama signing a reconciliation deal with IranÔÇöon the contrary we agree with it because we are the weakest party. Our hope is that we all reach peace and end disputes. However, what Obama is doing by lifting sanctions on Iran is that he's bringing down the wall with the country without placing down any ways in which to restrain it. Meanwhile, Iran sends its forces and generals to fight in Syria and Iraq and funds the Houthi uprising in Yemen..."[4]

'Al-Quds Al-Arabi' Editorial: Gulf States Should Reject Obama's Invitation To Come To Camp David; 'Their Time Would Be Better Spent Building Up Their Own Strength'

The London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated in an editorial titled "Obama's Revolutionary Statements on the Gulf": "In unprecedented statements that can widen the abyss between the two sides, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his intention to hold discussions with the Gulf states during which he will announce the delivery of 'massive American assistance [to them] against external enemies,'[5] but only if they  'handle internal political challenges and especially the terrible human rights  abuses'ÔǪ[6] These statements are intended to pour oil on the flames of rage that are already burning in the Gulf states due to the approval [sic] in Lausanne last week of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the six powers, led by Washington. Undoubtedly many in the Gulf will view these statements as 'the wrong statements [coming] at the wrong time,' but this should not prevent them from understanding the important messages that are conveyed by these [statements], including:

"A. Now that the strategic circumstances in the region have changed, and in particular now that Iran has become a nuclear power, the U.S. does not intend to keep playing the role of the 'Gulf policeman' that it has filled for about 40 years. If the Obama Administration has not surrendered to Israeli pressures to enter a military conflict with Iran, it seems unlikely that it has any intention of doing so on behalf of any Arab country. The new war currently raging in Yemen may be the practical translation of this message, for at the moment of truth, when the Houthis posed an almost direct threat to its security, Saudi Arabia found itself relying only on its own [resources] and on the [strategic] Arab and Islamic depth.

"B. Obama's statements reveal that the Gulf states have enjoyed a false sense of security throughout the past decades. This sense [of security] probably helped induce them to refrain from establishing powerful armies and suffice with making deals to buy advanced weapons, [deals] intended primarily to benefit the U.S. and its Western allies, rather than to build genuine defense capabilities. During the same period, Iran managed to attain a strategic regional balance [of power] vis-├á-vis the U.S. and Israel. The paradox, however, is that the American president still considers himself entitled to decide what the Gulf states must do, and advises [them] to engage with Iran after his administration helps them strengthen their defense capabilities - which  generally means selling [them] more [American] weapons.

"C. Obama has not yet clarified what caused him in the past to remain silent in the face of what he called the 'terrible abuses' of human rights in the Gulf states, unless he has only just now discovered the existence [of these abuses] or the danger they pose to the local regimes. This begs the question: how can we describe the abuses that the U.S. has committed in [just] one country  - such as Iraq - and which make it [the U.S.] the last [country] entitled to speak at all of human rights?ÔǪ

"The Gulf countries' leaders should reject the invitation that Obama may send them to meet with him in Camp David, because their time would be better spent building up their own strength, far from the illusion of American protection. As for the demand [that the Gulf countries] implement political and legal reforms, which Obama made as part of his statements, it is somewhat justified, albeit insincere. [Such reforms] were and is still are essential, for genuine national reasons having to do with the benefit of the peoples and regimes in the Gulf, not because the master of the White House decided to use [this demand] to justify this chronic disgraceful American behavior of renouncing allies - [a behavior] that the Arabs, for their part, were late to discover."[7]

'Al-Hayat' Columnist Elias Kharfoush: "The Arab Governments Must Find A Way To Live In Peace With This Administration Until The End Of [Obama's] Term In Office In Less Than Two Years"

Columnist Elias Kharfoush wrote in an article titled "Obama the Jurisprudent" in the London daily Al-Hayat:  "The Arab states and Barack Obama have a real problem. The Arab governments must find a way to live in peace with this administration until the end of [Obama's] term in office in less than two years. The source of the problem is the extensive discrepancy between Obama's perception of the reasons for the crises in the region and the governments' perception of these reasons.

"Once we used to think that Obama was hesitant, or that he had little knowledge of the crises in the region. But the long interview he gave Thomas Friedman, a copy of which should be on the desk of every Arab official, confirms what we have [long] feared, namely that Obama knows what he is doing and his decisions are not random, but are born of a comprehensive strategy which he formulated based on his personal view of our region, its countries and its peoples - what Friedman called the 'Obama doctrine.'

"What can be learned from this doctrine is the degree to which Obama's perception dovetails with the Iranian one. This proves that Obama is [really] striving to reach an agreement with Iran about its nuclear program, in disregard of the interests and reservations of the Arab states...

"What should worry the Arabs more is Obama's [tendency to] make light of the danger posed by Iran to the security of the Arab states and its interference in their internal affairs. On this matter, he adopts the Iranian claim, and says: 'The biggest threats that [the Gulf States] face may not be coming from Iran invading. It's going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.' This, in stark contradiction to statements made by former and current officials in his own administration, the last of them being [Foreign] Minister John Kerry, who confirmed a few days ago that Iran was extending military aid to the armed Houthis in Yemen and threatened Iran that his country 'would not stand by while the region is destabilized.' However, Kerry will [first] have to convince his president of [the reality of] the threats [posed by Iran]...

"Obama's latest statements help us understand why he refrained from assisting the Syrian people, which allowed Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power. Obama did so despite being aware of the role played by Iran and the militias loyal to it in prolonging the life of this regime. In this context, we can also understand Obama's de facto alliance with the Iranians in Iraq, [an alliance] which allowed the [Shi'ite] Da'wa party and other elements to take control of this country. All this is part of a comprehensive policy in which Obama's perception dovetails with the Iranian doctrine of the Rule of the Jurisprudent regarding the Arab region and the fate of its countries. Obama, like Iran, holds the Arab governments responsible for their present condition, as well as for the emergence of ISIS from their societies, while ignoring the role played by the intervention of the Iranian Revolution in sowing division among the Arab societies and in drowning their peoples in sectarian conflict... Obama criticizes what he calls the 'Sunni states', using the same rhetoric the Iranians use in their anti-Arab attacks, while deliberately ignoring their Arab identity and casting doubts on their defense capabilities. Afterwards, he urges 'strengthen[ing] the body politic in these countries, so that Sunni youth feel that they've got something other than [ISIS] to choose from.'

"And while the American president does not need excuses to criticize the condition of the Arab countries, he has nothing to say about the internal condition in Iran - the very country that, in 2009, suppressed the Green Revolution[8] by force of arms, and which is still keeping two presidential candidates under house arrest despite the promises of current president [Hassan] Rohani to free them.

"With a na├»vet├® unworthy of a White House resident, Obama believes that Rohani's election expressed the Iranian regime's [sincere] response to its people's aspirations, while ignoring [the fact] that the regime allowed Rohani's rise to power [only] in order to market Iran's 'moderate' image abroad. The Iranians found themselves facing a man who could be exploited, such as Obama, and this has so far enabled their plan to succeed."[9]




[1] The New York Times (USA), April 5, 2015.

[2] The excerpts presented here are from the English version of the article, posted on the daily's website ( on April 7, 2015. The Arabic version was published the same day.

[3] The excerpts presented here are from the English version of the article, posted on the daily's website ( on April 10, 2015. The Arabic version was published the same day.

[4] The excerpts presented here are from the English version of the article, posted on the daily's website ( on April 9, 2015. The Arabic version was published the same day.

[5] Obama actually said: "And so part of our [America's] job is to work with these states [the Gulf states] and say, ÔÇÿHow can we build your defense capabilities against external threats...'

[6] Obama actually attributes the human rights abuse to the Syrian regime, saying: " "I think when you look at what happens in Syria, for example, there's been a great desire for the United States to get in there and do something. But the question is: Why is it that we can't have Arabs fighting [against] the terrible human rights abuses that have been perpetrated, or fighting against what Assad has done?"

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 7, 2015.

[8] The reference is to the widespread demonstrations by the Green Movement that erupted in Iran following the 2009 presidential elections, officially won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The demonstrators claimed election fraud and demanded to cancel the election results.

[9] Al-Hayat (London), April 12, 2015.

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