America’s Cycles of Change

Why Saudi and Gulf Leaders Won’t Listen to Obama

Fri, 08 January 2016

Six months after US President Barack Obama and his secre­tary of state, John Kerry, proudly pro­claimed the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran to the world, its catastrophic impact on the stability and security of the entire Middle East has become clearer than ever.

Iran’s hardline leadership has been immeasurably strengthened. The expected release of more than $100 billion in assets would fortify the Tehran government at a time when it would otherwise be exceptionally vulnerable because of historic low global oil prices.

Obama, Kerry and US National Security Adviser Susan Rice appear to have genuinely believed that the grateful Iranians would join hands with them in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). As the entire region knows, Iran’s ayatollahs treated such fairy tales with the contempt they deserved.

Instead, Iran proudly displayed its latest nuclear-capable missile on January 5th and continued to openly humiliate and taunt the United States.

In this atmosphere, it is entirely understandable that Saudi Arabia is ignoring US appeals to take a softer, more conciliatory line with Tehran. Unlike Obama, Kerry and Rice, the Saudi leaders recognize the wisdom of the great Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke at the time of the French revolution that one does not start repairing a roof in a thunderstorm.

The brutal truth is that Obama and his top officials have squandered their credibility with America’s traditional Arab allies. Many in the Arab world have come to think Obama is more committed to preserving his legacy in history following the July 14th P5+1 deal than in acting as an honest broker in Middle East disputes, especially those pitting Iran against the Sunni Arab world.

Iran will now try to get away with as many violations or exploitation of loopholes of that agreement as possible.

The timid attitude of Washington in the face of Iran’s recent missile test provocations did not enhance the credibility of the US administration and things are only going to get worse.

For US decision makers, especially those in the foreign policy realm, 2016 is bound to compound the challenges that a lame-duck presidential year usually brings in the rhythms of American politics.

Harry Truman in 1952, even the revered Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 all suffered one foreign policy humiliation after another during their final year in office.

George W. Bush had squandered his credibility with reckless abandon long before his final year in power. Bill Clinton in 2000 saw his compliant Moscow partner, Boris Yeltsin, replaced by the far more able and formidable Vladimir Putin and never worked out how to deal with him.

Obama has never taken the Middle East seriously. He never pushed hard for any breakthrough or revived credibility in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and as a result will hand over to his successor a condition that appears heading for the abyss of mass violence on an unprecedented scale.

The current US president also never showed any interest or effort in winning the trust of the Sunni populations across the Fertile Crescent.

Instead, his feckless support for mass popular protests in Libya, Yemen and Syria led directly to continuing states of civil war, chaos, warlord-ism and mass suffering in all those countries.

Obama, Kerry and Rice should not be surprised that Saudi and Gulf leaders do not take their advice as wisdom now after seven long years of suffering the consequences of their folly.