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memri
April 20, 2016 No.
6394

Saudi Arabia, Gulf States On Eve Of Obama Visit: Obama Disappointed Us, Caused Us To Realize He Is Not A True Friend And To Start Relying Only On Ourselves

On April 21, 2016, U.S. President Obama is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia for an official visit that will include meetings with Gulf leaders, similar to the summit that was held between the sides in Camp David in May 2015. According to reports in Arab press, the sides will discuss various topics on the agenda, including Iran; the crises in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and the strategic relations between the Gulf states and the U.S., as well as its commitment to assist them. However, Obama's visit takes place at a time of great tension between the U.S. and Gulf states on the backdrop of disagreements over various regional issues. In Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states there is much disappointment, frustration and even anger over Obama's Middle East policies in the last few years, including his handling of the crises in Syria, Yemen and Iraq and especially his openness towards Iran.

In fact, the May 2015 summit between the Gulf leaders and President Obama, which took place while negotiations between the U.S. and Iran over the nuclear issue were at their height, was also preceded by controversies so intense that the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the UAE president and the Sultan of Oman canceled their participation and sent representatives in their stead. Back then, the Gulf states accused Obama of turning his back on his allies and strengthening Iran to an extent that threatened their interests.[1] Tensions increased even further in July 2015, with the publication of the JCPOA. Articles published since then in the Gulf press, and particularly in the Saudi press, stated that by means of this agreement, the U.S. was strengthening Iran in the region at the expense of Arab countries and the Gulf states; empowering Iran and its subordinate organizations to interfere in regional countries; and turning its back on the Gulf states, the U.S.'s traditional regional allies. Some even accused Obama of leading the Middle East towards disaster.[2]

Anger at Obama increased even further following an interview he gave to U.S. The Atlantic magazine on March 10, 2016, in which he hinted that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries were "free riders" taking advantage of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism and called on Saudi Arabia to share Middle Eastern influence with Iran. This interview sparked fury in the Gulf and especially Saudi Arabia, which quickly responded with an article by former Saudi intelligence minister and ambassador to the U.S., Turki Al-Faisal. He argued that, contrary to Obama's statements, Saudi Arabia plays a key role in combatting terrorism, including sharing intelligence with the U.S. that has thwarted terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Al-Faisal condemned Obama for calling on Saudi Arabia to partner with Iran after he himself admitted that Iran sponsors terrorism and promised to oppose its "destructive behavior."[3]

Similarly, Kuwaiti National Security Apparatus Chief Thamer Al-Sabah wondered how Obama could accuse the Gulf states of being "free riders" in the global war on terrorism despite all their efforts in this domain - from participating in the international coalition against ISIS and spending billions of dollars on it, to sharing intelligence on terrorists with the West.[4]

Obama's interview with The Atlantic also sparked hundreds of scathing articles against him in the Gulf press. These articles argued that Obama was making false allegations about Saudi Arabia in order to avoid taking responsibility for the failure of his destructive Middle East policy, especially regarding Iran, and due to his fears of Saudi Arabia joining forces with international elements other than the U.S. Many articles stated that, by abandoning his traditional allies and partnering with Iran, Obama had caused these allies to realize that they could no longer count exclusively on the U.S. and that they must seek other allies around the world. Moreover, he caused them to start relying on themselves and looking out for their own interests, out of an understanding that the U.S. was not a true ally. According to numerous writers, this realization caused Saudi Arabia to change its policy towards the U.S. in the past year, and to rely on itself and look out for its own interests and those of the region, whether or not this conformed to U.S. policy. [5]

Another issue contributing to the present tension between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. is a bill currently before Congress, which will allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the September 11, 2001, attacks. According to a report published in The New York Times on April 15, 2016,  Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir threatened, during his visit in the U.S., that if the bill were to pass, Saudi Arabia would sell off $750 billion in U.S. bonds and assets in its possession, out of fear that they would be frozen by American courts.[6]

The following are excerpts from articles published in the Gulf press on the eve of President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia:

 
Saudi King Salman and U.S. President Obama (Image: english.alarabiya.net)

Saudi Journalist: Obama's Alliance With Iran At The Expense Of The Gulf States Has Caused Them To Take Charge Of Their Own Fate

Saudi journalist and former head of Al-Arabiya TV, Turki Al-Dakhil, leveled harsh criticism at the U.S. president. Writing in the official UAE daily Al-Bayan, Al-Dakhil argued that Obama tried to enact a fundamental change in American foreign policy in the region and pick Iran as an ally over Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. He remarked that this position is actually good for the Gulf states, which have begun to take charge of their own fate and act on their own accord without relying on American help. Moreover, he added, they will learn "to tell true friends from half friends." He wrote:

"President Barack Obama... felt unsure about the true cooperation between the U.S. and Gulf states, which bordered on an alliance, and from the first moment [of his term], he desired to grow close to Iran - an idea he was in love with to the point of intoxication, and enchanted with to the point of addiction. He signed the JCPOA with Tehran and saw it as a historic agreement that would be seen as the most important achievement of his term as president. [However,] even if his [term] did include certain economic achievements, it was certainly devoid of political ones. [On the contrary,] his term saw a resounding failure in the region: American influence waned and the arena was left clear for the terrorists of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hizbullah, and [others].

"Obama's latest interview [with The Atlantic magazine], in which he outlined his political ideology, was clear and explicit, and revealed the true thought that guided him during his two terms in office and brought America's popularity to its lowest point. It failed on the Syrian issue and [in dealing with] the Arab revolutions, and on almost all [other] political topics.

"In the provocative interview that he gave The Atlantic magazine, Obama simply said that the region should be divided between Iran and the Gulf states, and disrespected Saudi Arabia as a free rider that has many demands. Prince Turki Al-Faisal disproved these statements and said that Saudi Arabia was not a 'free rider,' but rather takes an active role in [dealing with] regional crises and combatting terrorism alongside world superpowers. It also took part in containing the negative influence of the Arab revolutions, paid billions of dollars of its own money for the poor in Afghanistan during the last three decades, and prevented wars in many areas around the world... Obama bragged about reneging on his intention to attack the Assad regime and spoke of the need to end dogmatic policy in the U.S. state department that is based on protecting Saudi Arabia, saying that his navy will only act to combat terrorism or protect Israel against a possible nuclear attack.

"Obama wants to reverse White House [policy] regarding the historic relations [with the Gulf that have]  economic and political dimensions. Ever since the Gulf state [leaders] met [Obama] in Camp David [in May 2015], everyone noticed that the Gulf states, and chiefly Saudi Arabia, began to rely solely on themselves - conduct wars on their own... make alliances, and deter opponents. Quite possibly, this U.S. position is [in fact] better for us, so that we can continue conducting our political and security moves [on our own] and defend our borders and the welfare of our peoples, since reliance on the Eisenhower Doctrine[7] to protect Saudi Arabia has made us lethargic. The U.S.'s reversal and withdrawal [from its traditional positions regarding Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states] are not the end of the world, but rather a good start for the Gulf states [that will help them] rely on themselves and tell true friends from half friends." [8]

UAE Columnist: Gulf States Have Adopted New Policy Vis-à-vis U.S., Are Capable Of Harming Its Interests In Region

Muhammad Khalfan Al-Sawafi, a columnist for the official UAE daily Al-Ittihad, claimed that, following the JCPOA between the U.S. and Iran, the Gulf states decided to look after their own interests and seek new allies instead of U.S. According to him, Obama's visit to the gulf indicates his recognition of his failure on the Iranian issue and his desire to reaffirm his country's relations with the Gulf states. He wrote:

"The Gulf policy has proven that no political deal can be made in the region without taking into account all the other regional elements [in addition to Iran], otherwise, the agreement will be unstable. Regional developments in the months since the JCPOA [was presented] have proven this. The essence of the American administration's view was that Iran could be 'the savior' [who would resolve] all regional political crises merely by signing an agreement with the U.S. However, [the U.S.] intentionally ignored the fact that the Ayatollah regime was itself a factor in these problems and crises...

"This view [of the U.S.] was an important factor that hardened the Gulf states' resolve to use this matter to seek [new] opportunities in international politics that would enable them to protect their countries. As a result, their positions regarding their strategic ally, the U.S., became a determined policy that could cause it to lose many of its regional interests, particularly considering that Iran is an untrustworthy ally. Therefore, we can say that both visits [by Obama and Kerry] are an attempt [by the U.S.] to prove the seriousness of the relations between the Gulf states and the U.S., and [to prove] the American desire to continue investing in [these relations]. This, as a contrast to the policy of disrespect embodied by the JCPOA, in which the American administration ignored the fact that Iran is the cause of regional crises by way of the militias [it] establishes and its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries...

"The international activity of the Gulf states caused the Americans to reconsider who their true and strategic ally [in the Gulf really is]. Therefore, [the Americans] are [now] trying to rekindle [their relations] with the Gulf states, which also operated according to their own strategic interests along with forces that are rivals to the U.S.'s global policy. The realism of the American administration, which was embodied in diplomacy [meant] to end the era of hostility between the U.S. and Iran, clashed with the cunning of Iranian politics, which is based on evading international commitments. Therefore, the U.S. administration was forced to admit the failure of its efforts to restore Iran to a state of normalcy in the regional and in international arenas..."[9]

Saudi Writer: Obama Will Discover That Saudi Arabia Has Created A New Middle East And New Facts On The Ground, Even If It is Not To His Liking

Saudi journalist 'Abdallah bin Bjad Al-'Otaibi, writing in his column in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, reviewed some of the issues in dispute between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., as well as the new, independent policy that Saudi Arabia has been taking on regional matters, which contrasts with Obama's policy. He pointed to several Saudi achievements from the recent period: its success in condemning and isolating Iran, its military success in Yemen against the Houthis, and its successful formation of a Muslim coalition to fight terror. He stated that Obama will visit a new Middle East, different from the one he aspired to create - a Middle East whose countries have dominant policies and can protect their own interests and solve their own regional problems. He wrote:

"Like many American presidents before him, President Barack Obama, in the final months of his presidential term, will arrive for a visit in Saudi Arabia and will be a guest at a Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] summit. When Obama was elected... he had ideas regarding eliminating two things in Arab countries: the dictatorship of Arab republics, and violent religious organizations. This, by supporting political Islam movements, chiefly the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood [MB]. However, this led to embarrassing results... Chaos spread, and the political Islam movements [themselves] became violent, in contrast to what [Obama] desired, and when the time came for diplomacy, it was Saudi Arabia that led the regional scene.

"The entry of the Peninsula Shield Force into Bahrain at the time to prevent riots was not to the liking of the American administration. However, [the force] entered anyway and protected Bahrain's stability. Today the American president is coming [for a visit] just when Saudi Arabia intends to establish a joint Arab force that will carry out an Arab role similar to the role that the Peninsula Shield Force played in the Gulf states. President [Obama] did not like the Egyptian people's rejection of the rule of the political Islam groups in June 2013 [i.e., the ouster of the Muhammad Mursi]. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, supported it [the Egyptian people] and Egypt's stability. [Obama] is coming today, after the historic visit by King Salman bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz to Egypt and after the historic agreements he signed [with it] and the unlimited support he gave to Egypt's stability and new future.

"Seeking a creative or surprising solution that would grant him achievements in foreign [policy] that he could lean on, the [U.S.] president ran to Iran in order to create a political breakthrough by means of a nuclear agreement with it. He made efforts to gather international support [for the agreement] and signed it along with the 5+1 countries. The Gulf states supported him [on the nuclear issue] in the 2016 Camp David summit, but had reservations regarding other matters concerning Iran.

"As Obama arrives [in Saudi Arabia] today, Iran is under an Arab and Islamic siege, [both] political and economical; is allied with Russia against [Obama] and his country, and it is the target of condemnations from Gulf states and [other] Arab and Islamic countries due to its interference in their internal affairs and its ongoing support for terrorism and terrorist groups and militias...

"Obama will arrive in a region totally different from the one he was used to, since the Arab coalition to support the legitimate regime in Yemen is achieving victories on a large scale, not just on the ground, but also in terms of policy... [He arrives in the region as] the coalition of Muslim countries to combat terrorism raises its banners and consolidates its foundations. The roaring jets of the 'Northern Thunder' military exercises,[10] as well as the whistle of its missiles and the readiness of its troops, still fill the air of the entire region.

"[We] welcome the president back to a region that has developed, albeit not in the way he wanted. [We] welcome him so he can witness the creation of a new history in the region - a history that states that we can stabilize chaos and guarantee this [stability]... New waters course through the river of regional and international politics, and will increase in the future. If President Obama [felt] obliged to try [and solve the crises], then leading countries in the region were surely obliged to act, and to lead and impose their conditions in order to protect their borders and ensure their interests in all ways.

"[We] welcome the president back [to a region afflicted with] crises he did not solve, but rather took part in magnifying, [such as] the Syrian crisis and all resulting crises that [now] afflict his European allies. [We] welcome him to the Yemeni crisis, which is on its way to a solution. [We] welcome him to [his] ally countries, which can [now] defend their interests with a mature outlook, dominant policy, and appropriate attitudes. The U.S. is an ally [of ours] and is the world's most powerful nation politically, economically, and militarily, and will remain so in the foreseeable future. However, an alliance with a country does not mean an alliance with a particular person, regardless of his role or status. Ultimately, the deciding factor is joint interests, concurrent outlooks, and a guaranteed future.

"In sum, Saudi Arabia leads the entire region and influences the entire world's leadership. It has political, military, and economic alliances that enable it to gather more power and influence [in the region]." [11]

 

Endnotes:

[3] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6348, Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal To Obama: 'We Are Not Free Riders', March 14, 2016.

[4] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 18, 2016.

[5] See, for example, Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 13, 2015; Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 14, 2016; and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 14 and March 22, 2015.

[6] The New York Times, April 15, 2016.

[7] The Eisenhower Doctrine, outlined on January 5, 1957, promised military or economic aid to any Middle Eastern country that required help in resisting communist aggression.

[8] Al-Bayan (UAE), April 13, 2016.

[9] Al-Ittihad (UAE), April 13, 2016.

[10] Regional exercises which took place in Saudi Arabia in March 2016 with the participation of many Arab countries.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 17, 2016.