When it comes to this White House's much-maligned Middle East policy the chickens are coming home to roost as their eggs crash onto President Obama's face.
In the wake of reaching a so-called Iran nuclear framework agreement (I prefer the more apt "Memorandum of Misunderstanding") Obama came out to the Rose Garden and declared his intent to convene a "Camp David Security Summit" among the U.S. and the eight Sunni Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The goal of the summit was to assuage Gulf states that the U.S. was not blind to their security concerns as it negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran. It was part and parcel of the Administration's vaunted diplomatic offensive to neutralize critics of its Iran nuclear handiwork - the Saudis and its Sunni Arab allies being quite vocal skeptics, among others. The White House even penciled in before the gathering a face-to-face meeting between the President and newly Saudi crowned King Salman - to manifest the durability of U.S. - Saudi friendship.
Guess who's not coming, even after they had all RSVP? Four out of the six Sunni Arab leaders including King Salman (the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar are still planning to attend along with other officials from the remaining GCC states just to avoid a complete calamity). That's quite the Shanda! (a Yiddish expression for "embarrassing!").
In the annals of official diplomatic snubs this is the equivalent of a ten pointer on the Richter scale no matter how the White House clumsily spins the debacle. John Kerry was just in Riyadh last week meeting with King Salman supposedly obtaining the King's blessing for his participation. Although Kerry reportedly secured the King's attendance, something clearly went very wrong over the weekend. Although the Saudis had warned Kerry that a Camp David summit would only be as good as its achievements...not its instagrams, Kerry assured the Saudis that President Obama would be "open" to new security guaranties and more sophisticated arms transfers. As it turns out, one could drive a Mack truck through the word "open." As Kerry was flying around Europe the White House leaked over the weekend that the President had no intent (or would he even try to seek Congressional approval) to enter into any formal mutual defense agreement with the GCC at the Camp David summit, nor to entertain ballistic missile cooperation, nor agree to Saudi and Emirati requests to transfer sophisticated Air Force F-35 jet fighters to GCC members.
To make matters worse, the already skittish Israelis and their Congressional allies made it clear they would never agree to a formal mutual defense agreement between the GCC and the U.S., especially when the U.S. and Israel do not have their own formal mutual security agreement. Just think of the optics here: Israel's very existence at risk by Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Obama Administration straying into conjecture whether it would enter into some form of a mutual defense agreement with Sunni Arab states! What is going on here?
Kerry assured National Security Adviser Rice he had his Saudi ducks lined up for the summit. But Kerry has proven time and again to be a very poor interpreter of Arab intent -- even with a good translator in tow. This is, after all, the Secretary of State who promised to produce a final Palestinian-Israeli peace in 9 months, and who assured the world that Syria would never again use chemical weapons again against its people - assurances he privately conveyed not only to the Saudis, but to the Jordanians and Israelis, as well after he reached agreement with the Russians to remove ALL of those weapons from Assad's hands. Well guess what? Assad is at it again. The Saudis and their allies are tiring of Kerry's happy talk. Aren't we all?
So instead of a kiss on the cheeks the Saudis and their allies just slapped Obama on the face.
After seven excruciating years of Obama-orchestrated fallow summits (counter-terrorism, Muslim outreach, Africa leaders, to name just a few) it is so, so clear this White House simply cannot muster the wherewithal to undertake the equivalent of diplomatic "mise en place" or to make sure the heavy policy lift occurs afterwards. So the Camp David security summit's symbolic collapse is emblematic of what chronically ails Obama's foreign policy - proper preparation and proper execution - with credible strategy in between. Committing the same errors over and over again and expecting different results...that's the defining trait of Obama's Middle East policies.
Why should anyone be surprised? After all, who is fooling who here? The Saudis and their GCC allies have made it very clear in recent weeks that a Camp David summit which fails in its core mission to produce tangible security agreements to impede Iranian post-nuclear deal designs (and not a nice little empty communique) is simply a waste of good food. The laundry list of Sunni Arab apprehensions about U.S. Middle East policy just keep piling up. There is a palatable sense that Obama is tripping over himself rushing stage right for the exit as Iran seizes unarmed merchant vessels in the Arabian Gulf, pours more arms and money into Hamas, continues to arm the Houthis, strengthens Hezbollah all while U.S. nuclear negotiators keep on plugging away with hardly a yawn from the Rose Garden. Let us not forget the Saudis (and by extension, our counter-terrorism campaign against Al Qaeda in Yemen) face a real debacle in Yemen, and the U.S. is simply unable to translate what American logistical and intelligence support into positive, durable Yemeni facts on the ground, in the air, or on the seas.
The fundamental problem is not mistimed invitations or diplomatic snubs. The crisis in the Middle East has devolved into a duel pitting Saudi Arabia and the Iran against each other in regional theaters of competition: Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf. The Saudis (and their apprehensive Gulf allies) have every reason to fear Washington's lack of resolve, and White House communiques have proven hollow in the past.
Keen Middle East observers assert the Obama Administration is just playing for time with the Saudis and their GCC allies: that once a nuclear agreement is reached with Iran and Team Obama does its end-of-term undeserved victory lap Sunni Arab states will have to step up to the plate and fend for themselves against an Iranian adversary more or less free to assert its regional aspirations without check. That is the trajectory Obama's inexperienced foreign policy team has - by default and by design - created for the GCC, Israel, and the next U.S. president. When Obama agreed to straight jacket the U.S. into a single-minded nuclear negotiation with Iran at the expense of any other Iranian misconduct it lost all leverage - leverage to influence Iran's conduct in Yemen, Syria, Gaza, much less to gain the release of American hostages. Iran's conduct during each stage of the nuclear dossier only magnifies Washington's miscalculation - everything is off the table with Iran except reaching a nuclear deal. It is a fundamentally flawed legacy as those chickens now come home to roost.