Before Anwar Sadat took over, Egypt and the majority of the “moderate” Arab world were satellites of the Soviet Union. Sadat dumped the Soviets for the West, which upset the Egyptian military (but American dollars earned their love and respect). Egypt’s move enticed many of the other “moderate” Arab nations to come over to the Western side.
Under Obama, American foreign policy slowly disengaged from the Middle East and shifted emphasis to Asian interests. And what the United States was doing in the area, specifically ignoring the red line of Syrian chemical weapons and the Iranian nuclear deal, was seen by our Arab allies as signs of inconsistency and weakness.
According to Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain President Obama’s disjointed foreign policy is driving the Arab states back into the embrace of Moscow:
Citing President Obama’s handling of the recent crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, which allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize the initiative, Sheikh Salman said some states were now seriously reviewing their relations with the US.
“The Russians have proved they are reliable friends,” said Sheikh Salman, referring to Mr Putin’s diplomatic intervention to prevent Western military action against Bashar al-Assad.
“As a result some states in the region have already started to look at developing more multilateral relations rather than just relying on Washington. America seems to suffer from schizophrenia when it deals with the Arab world.”
The Washington and Cambridge-educated Sheikh Salman, 44, who also serves at Bahrain’s First Deputy Prime Minister, said America’s recent involvement in the region’s conflicts meant many Arab states now doubted whether they could rely on the West to protect their interests.
“The US cannot sit from afar making condescending judgements. It needs friends and partners to achieve its goals,” he said.
Bahrain has been upset with the United States ever since President Obama abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a move that also upset Saudi Arabia at the time.
The Sheikh isn’t the first Arab leader to warn Obama’s policy is damaging U.S. relations with the Arab world.
The Saudi ambassador to England, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, gave the U.S. a rare public rebuke during the initial nuclear discussions with Iran:
“Appeasement hasn’t worked in the past, and I don’t think it will work in the 21st century,” he was quoted as saying. “That is why the frustration really is toward the main players within the United Nations Security Council, that’s their responsibility. And they will share also the blame, whatever deal comes out, they are responsible for it.”
In mid-November Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia appeared on “Morning Joe” and criticized the Obama administration or not having a cohesive policy in the Middle East. He used using the Syrian debacle where Russian President Putin outflanked the United States as an example:
The biggest concern we have in Saudi Arabia and many of the Arab countries is that we need cohesive, coherent and comprehensive policy for the Mideast. For example, when President Obama draws the red line where by the chemical weapons are used in Syria, and that red line is crossed, very bluntly and openly. Then he just reneges and blinks on that and gives Putin the chance to go back from, not the back door but from the main entrance, at least from the Middle East and Egypt, that’s scary and dangerous.
When panelist MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell disputed the Prince’s accounting there was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Alwaleed Bin Talal delivered a verbal coup de grâce:
The flip side of that is that Bashar is staying now for a long time to come. Because now, there is an unsigned contract between the United States and the regime in Syria now to get the chemical weapons. And for sure, the last thing the Obama Administration would like right now is to change the regime. Because we’re not sure if these jihadists, these terrorist jihadists take over they will not continue in that part of giving up the chemical weapons. That’s the flip side of it also. That’s where the foreign policy confusion comes up.
A key component of a good foreign policy is consistency. Our allies need to understand what our objectives and policy is and where it is going. Obama’s vacillating, lead from behind policy has led the Arab states to look at the U.S. under this President as weak and unsure. If they end up in the embrace of Russia, the United States will be worse off for decades to come.
I don’t want to give the impression that everything this administration has done in the Middle East has been a failure. While our Arab allies may be inching away from the United States, this President has been able to accomplish something no other president has been able to achieve. Israel and Saudi Arabia are working together to squash the P5+1 deal with Iran. No other President has ever gotten Israel and the Saudis to talk to each other.