Abbas: If Trump is serious about defeating extremism, he'll have no better partner than Gulf states
Gulf region blames Obama for Iran nuclear deal and his U-turn on US intervention in Syria, Abbas says
Editor’s Note: Faisal J. Abbas is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, the Middle East’s leading international English language daily. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas
After eight years of Obama, even a Donald Trump presidency feels like a breath of fresh air. At least this is certainly the sense one gets behind closed doors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.
This is ironic, because possibly no other US President enjoyed as much cheering – and a genuine willingness to work with him – than Barack Obama received from the GCC when he was first elected in 2008.
But that was then. The situation, regretfully, couldn’t be more different now.
The Arab grievances are many, and Obama has nobody to blame but himself. Indeed, after setting expectations so high during his famous 2009 Cairo speech, he leaves the region in a worse situation than the one he inherited.
Despite his best efforts, he failed to deliver on the Israel-Palestine peace process. His promise to retract a US military presence from the region may have won him a Nobel Peace Prize, but it has certainly left Libya and Iraq in pieces.
However, for the Gulf states there are two issues that rise above the rest in terms of bitterness with the current administration: the infamous Obama U-turn on the red line he imposed on US intervention in Syria if its regime used chemical weapons against its people, and the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
In both cases, the GCC argument is that the current administration’s actions only encouraged further turmoil in the region.
Yes, President Obama might claim that he managed, without firing a single bullet, to rid the Assad regime of their chemical arsenal and similarly halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
But the truth on the ground is that the killing has continued in Syria, where the death toll has risen above 400,000 since 2011.
Meanwhile, Iran has continued funding groups designated as terrorist organizations, dashing hopes that the deal would lead it to mitigate its behavior.
Indeed, as Tehran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was signing off the treaty, which was meant to promote peace, Iranian generals were bragging about a new empire and having four Arab cities under their occupation.
Today, Iran is one of only two countries in the world that back Assad’s massacres in Syria. It also continues to officially support Lebanon’s Hezbollah (which is designated by the US as a terrorist group) and the Houthi militia that has overthrown a legitimate UN-backed government in Yemen and continues to harbor and support al-Qaeda terrorists within its borders, according to US government findings.
So what could President-elect Trump do differently?
Well, one thing to remember is that no sane person would ever argue against the fact that a nuclear-free Iran is certainly better for global and regional security.
The dispute with the Obama administration was over how the deal was reached since it didn’t take into consideration Iran’s rogue activities in the region, which are only set to further increase with the newly injected cash it will get.
As such, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal’s recent comments regarding the Iran nuclear deal make much sense.
“I don’t think he should scrap it (the nuclear deal). It’s been worked on for many years and the general consensus in the world, not just the United States, is that it has achieved an objective, which is a 15-year hiatus in the program that Iran embarked on to develop nuclear weapons,” said the prince, who is a former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington and London.
But Prince Turki said Trump should admonish Iran for its “very adventurous and very destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.
And Iran isn’t the only item on the table. Saudi Arabia in particular is expected to pursue intensive diplomatic efforts to rectify a serious glitch in its relationship with Washington: the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA.
Indeed, while JASTA was conceived for a good cause, it ended up being directed totally against a country blamed indirectly for the atrocious 9/11 terror attacks, despite the recent release of a declassified report that failed to conclusively prove Saudi government involvement.
Riyadh believes that blaming its government for acts of some misguided, evil individuals is the equivalent of blaming the US government, or all Americans, for the acts of someone like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Furthermore, JASTA doesn’t do justice to the serious efforts and sacrifices that Riyadh has made in combating global terrorism.
The new US administration should remember that despite all differences with the Gulf states and with Saudi Arabia in particular, President Obama actually opposed and vetoed JASTA. One can’t assume that Obama only objected because he genuinely believed JASTA actually harms American interests, which it does.
Finally, for President-elect Trump to be successful in the region, he must choose his words more carefully and remember that the campaigning period is over now. No Gulf country will support any discrimination or racism against Arabs or Muslims.
However, if Trump is serious about combating violent extremism and taking on terrorists, he will have no better partner – militarily, financially and ideologically – than the GCC states. What better partner will there be for the new US administration than Saudi Arabia, a regional superpower that has actually formed and actively leads the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism?
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article referred to Persian Gulf rather than Gulf states.