Will Obama’s Principled Pragmatism Be Emulated by His Successor?

Principled Pragmatism Implemented

One of the greatest features of President Barack Obama’s legacy is his exercise of “principled pragmatism.” Fredrik Logevall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Professor of International Relations at Harvard, uses this term to describe Obama’s reluctance to seek military solutions to the conflicts during his two terms. This is an umbrella phrase that also describes Obama’s unique frame of reference, or even his grand strategy, to deal with America’s allies and foes. He has made it clear to our allies that America will not fight a war that they initiate in their own neighborhoods. The United States will examine all evolving crises and determine how each of those crises is affecting America’s vital interests and then determine the course of action regarding them. Continue reading “Will Obama’s Principled Pragmatism Be Emulated by His Successor?”

The Sustained Saudi-US Strategic Rift

Poor Saudis!  They have become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Persian Gulf, at least for the United States.  They have not been getting any respect from the Obama administration lately.  President Barack Obama, in a highly publicized interview, described the Middle East as a region that cannot be fixed, “not on his watch, and not for a generation to come.”  The Persian Gulf is a case in point.  That is a region where the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is getting hotter.  Since King Salman came to power, he appointed his 30-year-old son, Mohammad, as Defense Minister and the chief manager of his court.  In this latter capacity, he is generally regarded as the power behind the thrown.  The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Bin Naif, though he holds numerous posts, is not number two in terms of his exercise of power.  Brash Mohammad, it seems, is the second most visible, and ostensibly, the second most influential man in that country.  Personalities are important in authoritarian states.  Thus, it is safe to say that defense and foreign policy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is being formulated and conducted through the most visible participation of Salam and his favorite son, Mohammad.  Mohammad is regarded as the architect of that country’s invasion of Yemen.

Under Salman, four issues seem to be driving the KSA’s foreign policy.  First, is the hatred, fear, and envy of Iran.  Second, is the Saudi military aggression in Yemen. Third, is the Saudi’s obsession with ousting Bashara Assad’s regime from Syria.  Fourth, is the defeat of ISIS, which is a very important goal for the KSA in Yemen, but only a secondary goal in Syria.

These issues clearly clash with President Barack Obama’s approach to the Middle East.  Obama is the first US president to envisage Syria as a place where the United States should not do “stupid stuff” by waging another war, since it is beyond repair.

The Saudis are still in a state of shock that Obama concluded a nuclear deal with Iran, whereby the latter was allowed to continue its nuclear research program.  Now, the Saudis have no choice but to work on a realignment of their foreign policy toward Israel, which hates Iran with equal intensity.  However, the chief problem with that alignment is that it may never be made public, given the intensely anti-Israeli environment among the Saudi powerful religious community.  Still, Saudi Arabia may be able to become a little overt about its policy realignment with Israel, in the sense that the same Saudi religious scholars also hate Iran on the basis of their long-standing views of the Shias stemming from Wahhabism.

The Saudis also remain envious of Iran because of the way it has handled itself against the United States during that country’s invasion of Iraq.  They are envious of the way Iran became an influential power inside Iraq after the US withdrawal from that country.  And, in a perverse way, they admire Iran’s commitment to confront the United States in Syria through their resolute support of Bashara Assad.

The United States has long nurtured a strong antipathy toward the Islamic Republic.  However, that antagonism is secular in orientation.  As such, the United States was open to—and indeed, it sought and concluded—a nuclear agreement with Iran.  Even if a Republican president succeeds Obama, chances are that the United States is likely to keep its doors wide open for negotiations with Iran, for at least two reasons.  First, Iran remains a powerful player in the ongoing anti-ISIS war in Iraq, where the United States’ military involvement is primarily for the same purpose.  Second, as long as the United States continues to seek a political resolution of the Syrian ongoing civil war, Iran will remain an important player around the negotiating table, along with Russia.  The United States also knows that there can never be a stable peace in Iraq without active participation and approval by Iran.  In other words, in the making and sustenance of peace and stability in Iraq, Iran is likely to have a definite say.  Washington has begrudgingly accepted that reality, since it knows how destructive an alienated Iran can be in Iraq.

The Saudi leaders are watching these developments in Iraq, and all they can do is remain covetously on the sidelines.  For its own long-term advantage, Iran must ensure that the Iraqi Sunnis are not alienated.  For that purpose, it also knows that it has no choice but to ensure the emergence of a negotiated power-sharing agreement guaranteeing political participation and economic integration of the Sunnis in the governance of Iraq.  Again, despite being an Islamic Republic, Iran has demonstrated, time and time again, that it is fully adept at negotiating political agreements and deals and then ensuring their implementation, as it has been doing in the enactment of its promises within the nuclear deal.

Regarding the resolution of the Syrian civil war, Iran is likely to remain open to a power-sharing agreement, as long as such an agreement also guarantees its presence in Syria, and provided that agreement does not disturb the current status of Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the Levant.

On the contrary, the only card the Saudis and their GCC allies have in Syria is to back the so-called moderate Islamists.  However, the chief problem with those groups is that, despite recognizing that it has no other credible option but to allow them to play a meaningful role in the fight against Assad, the Obama administration has never stopped suspecting their loyalty.  Besides, the United States is also fully aware that a Saudi-backed post-Assad government in Syria is likely to be intensely Islamist.  And that type of government is likely to remain a source of abundant apprehension to both Jordan and Israel.

So, the US-Saudi strategic drift has not only become a reality under President Barack Obama, who has remained highly skeptical of any US military involvement in the Middle East, but who also steadfastly refuses to become a tool for Saudi Arabia’s continued proxy war with Iran and with the KSA’s military aggression in Yemen.  He knows how potentially destructive both of those developments are for the United States’ own undisputed priorities to see the emergence of a peaceful and stable Middle East.  A lot of Western strategic analysts believe that Obama’s aforementioned conclusions are the result of the fact that his country is no longer dependent on Saudi oil.  That is one reason, but the paramount reason is Obama’s conclusion that Iran is likely to be the future major regional power of the entire Middle East.  As such, he seemed to have concluded, it should be engaged on a variety of issues that are quite important to the United States. That is why he has openly advised the Saudis to share the Persian Gulf with Iran.

Examining President Obama’s conclusions that Saudi Arabia has long served as a “free rider,” and an actor that refuses to play a constructive role in the Middle East, it is hard to envision that Obama’s successor would draw conclusions that are radically different from his.

Thus, in order to engage Iran in a dialogue, it behooves Saudi Arabia to abandon at least the aspect of its Wahhabi ideology that has remained highly scornful of Iran as the leading Shia state.  Saudi Arabia has to conclude on its own that its mindless bombing and other military actions in Yemen is creating a powerfully adverse image of its country in the global community.  More importantly, those policies, because their pursuit is wasting so much money, appear to be pushing it toward a certain economic backwardness and political instability.  Having Yemen as the poorest country of the Arab Middle East has been bad enough; now, it is also becoming a fertile place for the nurturing of the two bloodiest terrorist entities: Al-Qaida and ISIS.  Saudi Arabia cannot afford to have either of them remain active in Yemen, from where their infiltration inside Saudi Arabia would be considerably simple.  Saudi Arabia has to conclude on its own that, only by cooperating with Iran, can both of them become sources of peace and stability from West Asia to the Levant.  Obama’s criticism of Saudi Arabia should be taken by its rulers as a clarion-call and an eye-opener, rather than a source of acrimony and anger.  Finally, Saudi Arabia also has to realize that President Obama’s thinking and conclusions about that country have become a powerful precedent, which his successor will have a hard time discounting.


Islamophobia in the West: Playing into the Hands of ISIS

Fear of Islam and Muslims has been a visible trend since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  In Europe, this trend was given fictional respectability in the name of freedom of speech.  However, the same alleged commitment to freedom of expression was not applied to those who denied the Holocaust.  The point here is not that anyone should deny the Holocaust.  Rather, the point of emphasis here is the hypocritical application of the selective use of that practice and the related double standard.  The same hypocrisy was applied in various cartoons disrespecting the Prophet of Islam.  For those who only read how capable the Europeans can be about insulting or even hating other religions need no proof other than the frequent nefarious acts of insulting the Prophet and Islam through the drawing of these offensive cartoons. Continue reading “Islamophobia in the West: Playing into the Hands of ISIS”

La Marseillaise Versus the Quranic Verse 5:32

The ISIS-sponsored terrorist attacks of Paris of November 13, 2015 popularized two phenomena.  The first one was the public singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, which embodies the free human spirit, even under an environment pregnant with fear, blood, tyranny and their related gore.  The French soccer fans were singing it while exiting the soccer stadium, where the Islamist terrorists had let loose a torrent of bloody attacks on innocent human beings.  They were murdered as revenge for the French government’s air campaign in the ISIS-controlled areas of Syria.  The demented soldiers of ISIS were killing them because they were Christians.  The unnoticed aspect of those murderous attacks was that all human beings in that stadium and elsewhere in Paris—Christians as well as Muslims—were their targets, since they had no clue about the religious identity of any of their victims. Continue reading “La Marseillaise Versus the Quranic Verse 5:32”

Is the ‘Dead’ Arab World Really Waiting to be Led by Iran?

Reading Boualem Sansal’s recent interview in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, was a stimulating experience. In that interview, Sansal, after depicting the Arab world “in terms of history,” as “dead,” thinks that Iran “is well armed intellectually, scientifically and economically, and could one day lead Islam globally.” He is also of the view that “…soon the Sunni Arabs will accept the domination of Shi’ite Iran, because only Iran enjoys recognition from the West, and even instills fear in it.” He regards Iran’s nuclear program as “proof” of Iranian “capabilities.” He also regards “Western Islam” as a “serious rival” of Iran. Western Islam, in Sansal’s estimation, “too could one day compete for the right to lead the Muslim world.” Continue reading “Is the ‘Dead’ Arab World Really Waiting to be Led by Iran?”

The Underpublicized Maneuvers of the GCC States

Leave it to two Israeli writers to make a point, which is mostly missed inside the United States, regarding the diplomatic adroitness and political savviness of the States of the Persian/Arabian Gulf. When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the United States last March and tried to embellish the mutuality of interests between the Gulf States and Israel toward the then impending US-Iran nuclear deal, everyone thought that a political nexus between Israel and the Gulf States was in the process of sprouting. Continue reading “The Underpublicized Maneuvers of the GCC States”

Burying the Hatchet is the Precondition for US-Iran Rapprochement

A lot of ink is being spilled analyzing the pros and cons of the recently concluded US-Iran nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+ 1 countries (4 permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany), and there is ample show of emotions about this deal involving different actors. The Arab states are upset because they concluded that its successful implementation would lead to an era of US-Iran rapprochement in which Iran, more than the Arab states, would be the focus of America’s attention. The Israelis are mad because they see the emergence of a nuclear Iran in the distant future as a result of it. More to the point, Israel’s Prime Minister , Benyamin Netanyahu, envisions that deal as the first historical step toward bringing about an end to Israel’s own preeminence, related to its nuclear deterrence in the region. A study prepared for the RAND Corporation addresses precisely that point when it notes, “Nuclear weapons would probably reinforce Iran’s traditional national security objectives, including deterring a U.S. or Israeli military attack.” The American side—mainly the Obama officials and pro-nuclear-deal Democrats in the US Congress—is hoping that it has succeeded, at least in postponing Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons aspirations into the distant future. The American neocons and the Republican legislators, on the contrary, think that Iran has fleeced the Obama administration into lifting the economic sanctions without giving up anything of substance. Continue reading “Burying the Hatchet is the Precondition for US-Iran Rapprochement”

Anti-ISIS War Underscores the End of Western Dominance

The emergence of ISIS/ISIL/IS is just one more example–albeit a significant one–of the passage of an era of Western dominance of the Arab/Muslim world.  President Barack Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy (which is anything but a strategy) and his war on that entity in Syria and Iraq should be examined in that context.  The most prominent members of Obama’s coalition to bomb ISIS are Arab monarchies of West Asia, whose very survival remains under constant threat not only from the Islamists, but also from the anti-authoritarian forces that played a crucial role in initiating the Arab Awakening in December 2010.  As much as the Arab Awakening has become a somewhat dormant force, its turbulence is still being felt on a daily basis in Yemen and Jordan.  As much as the Saudis succeeded in suppressing the rebellion of largely Shia masses against the Sunni rulers of Bahrain, no one really knows how stable that sheikhdom is likely to remain and for how long.  The Arab states are experiencing the worst form of turbulence, in general, since the outburst of the Arab Awakening in 2010. Continue reading “Anti-ISIS War Underscores the End of Western Dominance”

Heading Toward Failure: A Coalition of the “Reluctantly Willing”

As the Obama administration is busy forming a coalition to fight-eradicate the Islamic State (IS) or (ISIS/ISIL), the evolving coalition that gathered last week in Paris was a far cry from the one put together by George H. W. Bush in 1991 to fight and expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.  Today’s participants of the coalition of the “reluctantly willing” are probably thinking, but not voicing, that defeating the IS will be a difficult, if not impossible, challenge for a variety of reasons.

Continue reading “Heading Toward Failure: A Coalition of the “Reluctantly Willing””

So Long, 2013; Welcome 2014…I Think!

Happy new year to all my global friends and contacts!

2013 has been an okay year for the United States, in terms of its foreign policy in the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific.  Continue reading “So Long, 2013; Welcome 2014…I Think!”