From the Russian perspective, this Western move is either diabolical – a means of raiding Russia’s client base without confronting Moscow directly – or colossally stupid. China, under perceived pressure from American activism in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, also sees the move as opening doors that should be held closed: doors that will usher in new stability problems on China’s western flank.

We should be clear that Russia and China are both happy to have their own special relationships with the Arab League, and with Arab or other Muslim Middle Eastern nations individually. They understand this as pragmatism, and have no illusions about what it means in terms of amity, goodwill, or commonality of philosophical interests. The problem, from their perspective, is the West giving a boost on principle to a bloc that is hostile, unreliable, and potentially very exploitable by newly-empowered radical Islamists, as the “Arab Spring” spins off its thunderstorms and tornadoes. Either the Westerners are ideological dupes, or they are playing a very deep power game. With their passive-aggressive approach, the US and EU have chosen the path most likely to shift power relationships in negative, uncontrollable directions for everyone in Asia and much of Europe and Africa.

By operating on a set of unrealistic ideological precepts, the Obama administration has made it impossible for Russia and China to tacitly accept US leadership and extract from it the benefits they can.