During President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has deteriorated due to mistrust and disagreement over Iran, Syria, and the U.S. commitment to Gulf security. Blunt comments by Obama in a recent article in The Atlantic have deepened these concerns.
On April 26, AGSIW hosted a panel discussion examining what Obama and Gulf Cooperation Council leaders achieved, respectively, at the April 21 U.S.-GCC summit to advance their agendas and shore up the partnership. What problems remain to be addressed? What long-term effects will the “Obama doctrine” have on U.S.-GCC relations? And how will the results of this summit shape the future of U.S.-GCC relations under the next U.S. administration?
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Professor of Political Science, Emirates University
Jeffrey Goldberg, National Correspondent, The Atlantic
Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (Moderator)
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla discussed specific challenges and concerns that the GCC faces and will continue to face in the coming years. Abdulla believes that the April 21 GCC summit did not achieve any specific breakthroughs, nor did it constitute a historical visit by any means. He elaborated by noting that the GCC is riddled with complaints about the Obama administration while Washington appears to be very critical of actions taken by specific GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Abdulla presented three major concerns that the GCC has about the Obama administration. The first concern is the “Iran first” policy, as Dr. Abdulla calls it, the first time a president has put Iran first on the agenda and GCC countries’ issues second. The second concern involves Obama’s perspective on Muslims, the Islamic world and the region, specifically the notion that he knew more about the region due to his upbringing in Indonesia, which in reality did not hold to be true. Lastly, Abdulla explained how publicly critical the Obama administration has been about the GCC and how this violates the relationship between both parties; if a problem or concern exists, the best course of action is to keep matters private. Abdulla feels strongly that Obama’s legacy will not be over the issue of Iran but rather on his lack of action on Syria. Moreover, he cautions Washington to get used to “structural changes” that are here to stay, using the example of the GCC acting more assertive, bold, and independent on issues regarding their political and social systems. Overall however, the relationship of interests between the United States. and GCC has endured and will continue to remain strong.
Jeffrey Goldberg provided a Washingtonian perspective on the problems and achievements that the GCC summit had for both parties. He began by asserting that if Hillary Clinton were president, she would be in Riyadh by next March and would be greeted by the king at the airport. Furthermore, she would conduct what Goldberg calls a “reassurance tour” to restore trust and allegiance to numerous countries in the region and in Europe. Goldberg explains some of the insight he gained during his interview with Obama and key administration officials. Overall, both sides are tired of working with one another. He discussed Obama’s “arc of disappointment,” in which the president began with promises and optimism and soon realized that the problems facing the Middle East cannot be fixed during his last term.
Goldberg additionally discussed the issue of Iran and the impact this has had on the Obama administration. Despite the administration’s crackdown on Iran, more needs to be done in order to have Iran as a pro-American country in the Middle East. Moreover, the interpretations and attitudes of the average American about the Middle East point to a more strained and less engaged dynamic; Americans in general have little to zero interest in the problems facing the region. However, Obama has shifted the American public’s understanding of the importance of the Middle East. In general, Goldberg believes that the United States and GCC have more interests and commonalities than differences at the end of the day.
Through its careful examination of the forces shaping the evolution of Gulf societies and the new generation of emerging leaders, AGSIW facilitates a richer understanding of the role the countries in this key geostrategic region can be expected to play in the 21st century.Learn More