A Gulf of Conviction

The United States has taken some profound steps forward on the domestic front in recent weeks. The internet is ablaze with articles proclaiming that Barack Obama has finally found his mojo. There are Facebook pages dedicated to thanking him for marriage equality in the U.S. Many commentators are starting to evaluate his legacy in glowing terms. But these days my heart is squarely with Kuwait, Tunisia, Somalia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The fires that have been raging unabated for years are now burning stronger than ever. The forces of DAESH-inspired extremism coupled with states that officially sponsor terror (often in interdependent collaboration) has escalated the globe's conflict into a fully-fledged world war. The attacks on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE's diplomatic mission in Somalia has left me asking the question: "at what point will the United States feel compelled to become involved in the defense of it's allies and interests?". How many more close friends of the United States will need to be attacked before the Obama Administration sees it fit to step in? Will it take an attack on Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Another attack on France, perhaps? Do we have to wait until DAESH and it's followers attack the United States on it's own soil just as their spiritual fathers in Al-Qaeda did before them? There are a million questions and unknowns when it comes to the foreign policy of the most non-committal U.S. Administration in recent memory. And President Obama's silence in the wake of the Kuwait City attacks has been deafening.

On the contrary. Rather than sending messages that would strengthen traditional U.S. alliances, the signals from Washington after three DAESH or DAESH-inspired terrorist attacks rocked three continents on 6/26/2015 was abysmal. We got a synthetic two-paragraph form from the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House and not very much else in terms of a tangible response, let alone a plan of action, from the president. We've even seen statements such as these from State Department officials expressing frustration that Gulf Arab nations (the victims of Jihadist terror) have not been able to fully halt private funding to jihadist groups: "After 9/11, we thought they understood that this was no longer acceptable. It seems they didn't get the message."

Yes. In the past Gulf Arab states did funnel money, arms and support to jihadist groups such as the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. But so did the United States. This was when the consensus among the U.S. and it's allies was that the priority was to prevent the Soviet Union from overrunning Afghanistan and exercising hegemony over U.S. strategic interests and allies in the Gulf. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Mujahideen were discarded leading them to emerge as the forefathers of Al-Qaeda and the rest is sad history. The State Department official might want to look into the history of his/her own organization before issuing proclamations like the one quoted above.

And private funding of jihadist groups has been heavily scrutinized in the G.C.C. Those found to be privately sending money to terrorist groups are held to be criminally accountable. But the U.S. Secretary of State has been busy conducting intense negotiations with Iran, one of the most prolific state sponsors of terrorism in the world and one of the few countries on earth that has earned it's place on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism for over 30 years. Much to the chagrin of the United States' oldest allies in the region, the Obama Administration has been driven to reaching a deal with Iran on it's nuclear program. This deal has not only elicited the caution of diverse voices, including President Obama's former advisors but it has also elicited fear and apprehension from a diverse group of U.S. allies in the region. It should be crystal clear that any good deal with Iran should involve zero enrichment (the UAE, for example, voluntarily gave up the right to repossess or enrich nuclear fuel at the start of it's own program in 2008) and a good deal must also involve total transparency and complete access to Iran's nuclear sites by international organizations for the purposes of monitoring and verification. It should be crystal clear at this point that the United States is not going to get such a deal from Iran.

Even if a good deal could somehow be reached, it should not be a catalyst for immediately lifting sanctions from Iran. In order for that to happen Iran needs to also address the many other issues that stand between it and the world community. Iran must stop sponsoring terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. It must remove its presence and the presence of its Revolutionary Guards from Arab capitals ranging from Baghdad to Beirut and Damascus to Yemen. It must also stop its heavy sponsorship of dictators such as Bashar Al-Assad (who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the displacement of millions as of 2015). The Arab Gulf states would economically benefit from increased trade rather than tension with Iran if Iran were to meet it's international obligations. But, simply put, sanctions should not be lifted until Iran starts acting like a normal country and member of the international community.

While the Obama Administration continues to alienate it's oldest allies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have been cooperative friends since 1933) it is avid to seek a flawed deal with Iran (2013 was the first time that a U.S. president spoke to an Iranian head of state since 1979- in a 15 minute phone conversation). And the Gulf Arab states are returning the favor. The vast majority of Gulf Arab leaders including the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of the United Arab Emirates chose not to attend Obama's 2015 G.C.C summit at Camp David. Unlike Israel, the Arab Gulf countries do not want a public argument with the Obama Administration. They seem content to wait for a new U.S. President. In the aftermath of Obama's Camp David summit he attempted to put a good face on US-Saudi relations by reminding everyone that "as all of you are aware, the United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and King Faisal and we are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time." It doesn't take a president to know this but any serious student of history (or anyone with access to Google) would know that the relationship was forged between FDR and Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, not King Faisal. And we've recently had press releases from the White House where we have senior Obama Administration officials plainly state "Saudi Arabia has a long border with Syria". Again you don't need to be involved in statecraft, let alone a senior official in the U.S. Government, to know that it doesn't. Perhaps this is part of the "challenge" that Obama is referring to. The gulf leaders simply seem to perceive that this administration just doesn't know enough about the region and it's workings.

In the meantime we can also be crystal clear that, on Obama's watch, the U.S. will not engage in the only workable strategy to destroy DAESH. The response to terrorist attacks from Kuwait to France should be the destruction of this organization. That is going to require American and allied ground troops that will, first and foremost, dislodge DAESH from it's strongholds in Rakkah, Mosul and other major cities where the group holds sway and thrives. That doesn't look like its going to happen and attacks on countries like Kuwait and France (countries where U.S. soldiers fought and died to defend American interests and strengthen American alliances) will continue.

The world today is a supremely dangerous place for the United States and it's friends. And it's likely to get worse before it gets worse. But to end as I began: the United States has much to celebrate on the domestic front. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality is a major step forward. For that I thank Justice Kennedy, not President Obama. The latter's legacy will have to be defined in longer, broader and bigger ways. And for that perhaps the most relevant question is: "after 8 years of disastrous policy from George W. Bush and 8 years of directionless apathy from Barack Obama, who will be tasked with the nightmare of having to rebuild a strong and coherent U.S. Foreign Policy?".