The GCC-U.S. Relationship: A GCC Perspective | Middle East Policy Council
When the United States signals a willingness to negotiate with Iran, they worry that Washington will anoint Tehran as the regional hegemon.
In that sense, the article demonstrates that the tensions between Washington and its Gulf allies are not the product of particular individuals on either side, but are built into the very nature of the relationship itself. They cannot be "solved" by the replacement of an American president or a Gulf leader, though they might be better managed if each side came to a fuller understanding of the other's strategic views.
This article will delineate the major issues between the GCC states and the United States, based upon the analyses of state officials and informed observers. It will conclude by proposing a plan of action to get the partnership back on track.
The GCC states, due to changes in the dynamics of relations with the United States, are worried about abandonment. But these states have been worried in the past about entrapment by the United States. After decades of strategic partnership with the United States, they have failed to gain any leverage.
Every time the United States threatened to use force against Iran over its nuclear program, Iran was quick to threaten retaliation against GCC installations on the Arabian side of the Gulf. Moreover, Tehran keeps threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if Iran is attacked. The GCC states feel they are dependent on the United States and its decision whether to launch a military strike on Iran or strike a deal.
If they did, these states would not have been caught off guard by the covert U. It is entirely possible that, as Gause argues, "The fear of abandonment is structural in the Saudi-American relationship, but it is also exaggerated.
Clearly, the Saudis have abandoned their cautious diplomacy: Saudi Arabia has supplanted Qatar as the major Arab supporter of the Syrian rebels. It has broadened its support beyond the Free Syrian Army to various local salafi groups, encouraging them to form a somewhat united front in the Islamic Army. It remains the Syrian revolt's strongest advocate in the halls of global diplomacy.
Riyadh's disappointment with the Obama administration's refusal to follow up on its implicit threat to use force against the Assad regime for violating the "red line" of chemical weapons use in the summer of was palpable. The visit of President Obama with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia in Marchfollowed by reports that some vetted Syrian rebels have started to receive anti-tank weapons, was not enough to convince Riyadh that Washington was serious about getting rid of Assad.
Clearly, the Saudis look at Syria as a theater of competition with Iran not only over regional dominance, but also along the Sunni-Shiite divide. Syria is not the only issue over which the Saudis have demonstrated a willingness to separate themselves from the United States and assert a more independent foreign policy. In a stunning move last fall, Riyadh turned down a highly coveted seat at the UN Security Council after lobbying hard to get it.
This was a jab at the United States and its Western allies for their failed and ineffective policy on Syria. It "underscored the depth of Saudi anger over what the monarchy sees as weak and conciliatory Western stances toward Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival, and the Arab-Israeli peace process.
This step set the Saudis against the most successful Islamist political organization in the Arab Spring, which had won elections in Egypt and Tunisia, was doing well in Libya and formed an important part of the Syrian rebellion. Moreover, it also signalled Riyadh's willingness to separate itself from the United States, which had encouraged democratic reform in the Arab Spring and worked with the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
The inclusion of the Brotherhood appeared to signal the beginning of a Saudi effort to eradicate the group, demonstrating the deepening polarization that is spreading across the region after the Egyptian military's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, last summer. But what is perplexing about U.
United States foreign policy in the Middle East
If they did, they might be keen to find ways to reassure rather than to confront Washington. Qatar's maverick policy, in particular its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel's coverage of the Arab-awakening republics, especially Egypt, is seen by the others as threatening security and stability and not advancing GCC interests.
Oman has also expressed its unwillingness to join a tighter Gulf union, following its historical policy of independence. It is also unlikely that the Kuwaiti parliament would approve of any plan that seriously eroded the state's sovereignty. Perhaps the most notable critics have been senior members of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, long-time Saudi ambassador to Washington and the country's former national-security adviser, threatened in October a "major shift" in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria's civil war as well as recent U.
According to news reports, "Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by…. The West has allowed one regime to survive Syria and the other Iran to continue its program for uranium enrichment, with all the consequent dangers of weaponization.
He said on one occasion, "There is definitely, from a public-opinion point of view in the Kingdom, a high level of disappointment in the U. Gulf commentators, not at all unfriendly to the United States, have joined the chorus. Despite a long history of the relationship and mutual interest in the stability and security of the Gulf region, the GCC states and the United States look as if they are growing apart. Sager concludes, "The fact that one sees such a divergence has raised some serious questions in the minds of the Gulf citizens It is not clear whether the GCC states can continue to rely on U.
They have a stake in seeing this charm offensive bear fruit; it could prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in our neighborhood and avert a much-dreaded military showdown. But the Gulf does not see the Iranian threat as limited to the nuclear issue. The distrust level is high. There is a widely held perception within the GCC states of a hegemonic Iranian design to dominate the Gulf region, benefitting from the lack of an indigenous balance of power.
Iran represents an existential threat to the smaller GCC states. The reasons for this are twofold: Even today the amount of oil remains at one-fifth of American imports. From a strategic perspective, the post-war economic recoveries of Europe and Japan were fueled by cheap Middle Eastern oil. Ever since the Oil Embargo Crisis, American policy has viewed oil as a strategic resource, as does much of the world.
The embargo also applied to other countries that braced Israel including South Africa, the Netherlands, and Portugal. In fact, maintaining a strong Israel in the Middle East solidifies American national security interests there.
This perspective has dominated American foreign policy since the mid-twentieth century and continues to shape the current policy. The historical land of Palestine was under the authority of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, when Britain assumed control of Palestine as a mandate under the League of Nations. Before Britain announced the Balfour Declaration, the British government tried to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to endorse the proposed statement Balfour Declaration.
Initially, Wilson was reluctant to do so as he thought that such a declaration would worsen US-Ottoman relations.
Middle East Relationships: It's Complicated
Finally, under pressure by Louis D. From then on, the United States continued to support Jewish migration to Palestine. Congress adopted a resolution in December for this explicit purpose. On May 14,the State of Israel announced its independence.
From that point on, the historical land of Palestine has been known as Israel. Minutes after Israel declared its independence, the United States became the first country to recognize their independence. Shortly after that, the Soviet Union and other countries also recognized the independence of the Jewish state.
Following the announcement of the independence of Israel, the first Arab-Israeli War of began, and Egypt led Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Saudi Arabia in launching attacks on the territory in support of the Arab Palestinians. Continuing their policy of supporting Jewish immigration to Palestine, following the Arab-Israeli War ofthe Truman administration explicitly facilitated this process.
After the war, a small number of Palestinian Arabs remained in Israel while most of them retreated to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that remained under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively until the Six-Day War of They also criticized their governments for not developing the military infrastructure necessary to claim victory on the battlefield Gelvin, The succeeding American presidents have sponsored some initiatives, agreements, and treaties with some Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO to assure the sustainability of Israel.
From the onset of the Cold War, Israel is viewed as a close ally of the United States in a turbulent Middle East region and critical to American national security interests. Despite many political changes, this logic remains true to this day, with Israel serving as a protection against political Islam and other extremists. These military bases are not open to the public and usually, take different shapes according to the military purpose for which they were established.
However, with the onset of the Cold War, the number of military bases and military installations increased rapidly around the world. Prior tothe United States maintained a minimal military presence in the Middle East. However, following the Arab-Israeli War, Bahrain, no longer supportive of the American military presence, terminated the lease Sandars, In his State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would defend its interests in the Gulf region from outside force by any means necessary, including military action.
In order to promote a long-term solution to the region, President Ronald Reagan unified the command structure of the RDJTF and became more involved in its relationship with the region. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait inthe United States began assembling a coalition of more than 30 countries to oust the Iraqi military from Kuwait in January Specifically, at that time, the George W.
As a result of these factors, America invaded Iraq in It was not until December of that the United States officially withdrew its troops, leaving only personnel remaining at the American embassy in Iraq. Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait inthe United States intensified its military presence and expanded its military base footprint in the Gulf states.
The relationship is bilateral, and normally beneficial one, with mutual, although different, obligations. The client state… is often militarily powerful but economically weak….
The GCC-U.S. Relationship: A GCC Perspective
At the beginning of the Cold War, several Middle Eastern countries were divided into two respective camps. In one camp, countries such as Egypt and Syria supported the Soviet Union and were adopting international communist ideas. In the other camp, countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Israel backed the United States and adopted capitalist ideas and style.
Both parties, however, were getting economic, military, and diplomatic support from either Washington or Moscow. In addition, to some extent, a few states were able to use their diplomatic skills to gain support from both parties. Both superpowers recognized the importance of the region for their national security interests and thus sought to reinforce their relationships with the countries of the region and build what came to be known as client-states. Division among countries of the area rapidly appeared with some states giving support to the Soviet Union and other states supporting the United States.
Since the earlys, the United States has pledged to provide economic, military, and protective assistance to several countries in the Middle East to maintain its national security and strategic interests there.
The two signed a military cooperation agreement inwhich allowed Turkey to maintain a small base in Qatar. When fellow Gulf Cooperation Council states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in and imposed a trade embargo, Turkey increased the number of its troops at the base to deter military action.
This was important to Qatar because the U. Bilateral investment between Qatar and Turkey has also increased in recent years. The rationale is that the American military bases there are vital to its ability to project power in the region.
As a result, Qatar may believe the U. Things are a bit frostier in the Oval Office with Trump. In addition, Qatar must keep in mind that Turkey could never replace the U.