GCC rumblings spell weird week for Obama administration

Many analysts say Gulf Cooperation Council leaders do not believe the US president really understands their region.

    Obama recently chastised Gulf leaders, saying they should be more worried about their populations revolting than Iran attacking [AP]
    Obama recently chastised Gulf leaders, saying they should be more worried about their populations revolting than Iran attacking [AP]

    This has been a weird week for the Obama administration.

    They are very careful about what they announce. That was clearly the case with the upcoming Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit.

    Getting information about the most basic details in the run-up to the event seemed about the equivalent of asking for the nuclear codes.

    We were sitting around the office wondering why they were being so strange this time.

    We came up with the thought that it had be insecurity. They didn't want to make a big deal of the summit because, we guessed, they weren't sure who was going to show up.

    They started talking at the end of last week. They said King Salman of Saudi Arabia would be at the Camp David summit. They added he would meet Barack Obama, one-on-one, at the White House on Wednesday.

    Then all of a sudden, that changed.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry had just been in Saudi Arabia meeting with the king.

    The White House said he told them he would travel to the US. Then he wasn’t. The White House press secretary tried his best to spin this as anything but a snub.

    He said the "right people will be at the table".

    He insisted if the Saudis were sending a message, "it wasn't received."

    If they truly believe that this wasn't a snub, then they are pretty much the only people in Washington who see it that way.

    That begs the wider question why would a longtime ally feel the need to publicly rebuke the US president.

    I think that is a complicated answer.

    There is the history, many of the leaders made it clear they became suspicious of Obama when he called for the ousting of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

    I've spoken to many analysts who say the GCC leaders don't believe the president really understands the region.

    They point to what is happening in Iraq, Syria and Libya as proof.

    Obama recently chastised Gulf leaders in an interview, saying they should be more worried about their populations revolting than Iran attacking.

    With that as the backdrop, the focus of this summit will be on a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.

    The countries concerned always say the big fear is that if Iran got a nuclear weapon they would use it against them.

    I think the premise of that concern needs to be debated.

    Would the leaders of Iran actually bomb Israel, for example, knowing that the response could lead to their entire country being wiped off the map? That is a different conversation.

    The analysts I've talked to say the GCC countries have near-term and long-term concerns.

    In the short term, if the deal is reached then sanctions are lifted.

    If Iran’s economy recovers, Tehran will have more money to fund the proxies that it supports in the regional conflicts.

    That means more money for the groups that are fighting the groups that the Gulf supports. That makes it much more complicated.

    The long-term concern is that Iran could again become the go to US ally in the region.

    That would come at the expense of the Gulf countries who now firmly hold that position.

    So that brings us to today. The US president has been trying to find a way to reassure them that they have nothing to fear. How could he do that?

    A couple of options have been floated. The Gulf countries could ask for a much stronger defence treaty.

    Obama would have to get that through Congress. It's hard to see how that would pass if Israel is at all opposed to a new stronger treaty.

    The other possibility, give them better weapons systems.

    The president might want to do that but again he can't do that without Congress.

    The Congress has passed laws that say Israel always has to have the "qualitative military edge" in the region.

    The last option, Obama could stop negotiating with Iran. He isn't going to do that.

    So that brings us to the summit. The kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will send their surrogates and send a message.

    The president for his part isn't likely to change what he's doing, or what he's willing to give them, in return for their support.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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