Sunday, March 27, 2011

Barry Rubin: Why Moderate Arabs Are Horrified at Obama Administration Policy

This post was written by Barry Rubin and is reposted here with his permission.

By Barry Rubin

I've seen a lot in media expressing the views of the Gulf Arab states and officials' statements--not all of them public, and not to mention similar expressions from Turkish and Iranian oppositionists--expressing horror and shock at Obama Administration Middle East policy. Remember, al-Jazira is NOT typical, as it is run by Islamists and follows the pro-Iran line of its owner, the Qatari government.

In this article in al-Sharq al-Awsat (translated by MEMRI), a Saudi-controlled but also relatively liberal newspaper, Tariq al-Homayed, the chief editor, expresses the combination of shock and horror at the Obama Administration. The conflict was hot over Egypt and even hotter over Bahrain, where the Saudis want the current regime to survive and U.S. officials have criticized Saudi intervention.

Indeed, he complains, the statements coming from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
sound "more like what we'd expect to hear from the Iranian foreign minister." The "contradictory statements coming out of Washington have become more than merely perplexing; they are also suspicious."

Why suspicious? Because it isn't clear whether the U.S. government is more concerned about stopping revolutionary Islamism or undermining those who oppose it, more interested in containing Iran or letting Tehran's influence spread, supporting moderate Arab countries or overthrowing their regimes.

The editor accuses U.S. policy of ignoring Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen and Iranian statements claiming Bahrain. (Reminds me of how Iraq used to claim Kuwait and that was ignored until 1990, when Iraq invaded and annexed that country.)

How, he asks, can U.S. policymakers complain when the Gulf Cooperation Council states intervene in Bahrain--according to previous agreements--and then demanding that these countries support intervention in Libya?

Israel could now say to Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and several other Arab governments (plus the Iranian and Turkish oppositions): Welcome to our world.

The fears of relatively moderate Arabs (and Turks and Iranians) that they are getting thrown under bus are not merely imaginery at all. For example, the New York Times had an article March 17 with the following headline:

"Interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Now, of course, one understands what this means in linguistic terms. Yet the headline is amazingly revealing. Yes, the Saudis, not the United States, are now carrying on the main battle against the spread of Iranian influence and revolutionary Islamism. Of course, they cannot sustain this burden long without U.S. support.

Which raises the question: What's the United States doing in the "middle" between Iran and Saudi Arabia! It should be backing the Saudis against Iran. Indeed, it should be leading the anti-Islamist coalition!

To be fair, the Obama Administration is putting early-warning stations into Saudi Arabia for the day when Iran has nuclear-tipped missiles. The Reagan Doctrine (is that still in force?) commits the United States to protect Saudi Arabia from an overt Iranian military attack.

Yet the headline is true. The current U.S. government is essentially neutral between the two sides. Sort of like a headline from 1941 reading, "Interests of Nazi Germany and Britain Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Saudi Arabia isn't exactly like Britain under Winston Churchill but it is now on the front-line against the greatest threat of our time. U.S. policy already mishandled Iran in the 1970s and, more recently, the Obama Administration has watched Lebanon fall, Turkey's government change sides, and Egypt jump ship.

Already a headline would be accurate that read: "Interests of Palestinians and Israel Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Or how about: "Interests of Venezuela and Moderate Latin American States Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Or: "Interests of Russia and Central Europe Collide, With the U.S. in the Middle."

Yes, with this administration being in the "middle" is the best-case analysis. At worst, it's on the wrong side altogether.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press later this year. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports.

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