Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
20th April, 2016
Elena Suponina, political analyst and orientalist, exclusively for RIA Novosti
Obama has arrived in Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, he had talks with King Salman and his son, crown Prince Muhammad. And on Thursday, also in Riyadh, the US President will hold a general meeting with all six monarchs of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf.
He brought them a proposal that should relieve the irritation from the wealthy Arabs in America and reduce their fears towards Iran.
The NATO summit in Warsaw — the course to the East
Obama, no less, will call for Saudi Arabia and its neighbours to join NATO. Not in the sense, of course, of full membership; Turkey with its current unpredictability is enough. They will focus on the establishment of closer and almost equal (although the Arabs probably will not view it that way) cooperation.
The results of these negotiations, as was the issue of relations with Russia, will be key to the NATO summit, which will take place on the 8th and 9th July — and where do you think! — in Warsaw. That is where the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1991 rested in peace, and a little after the Soviet Union, the arrangement of the Warsaw Pact.
It no longer exists, but NATO exists and is approaching the borders of Russia. Obama had intended to include the Arabs into the transatlantic partnership.
However, in all honesty, this is not true. Obama is only making a second attempt. Prior to this, in the 90’s, the Alliance had already tried to establish closer ties with the Arabs. These efforts were interrupted by the revolutions of the Arab spring. Now the Alliance wants to take over the Middle East – a second wind.
A King and a duck who does not want to limp
Obama, judging by his foreign policy, does not feel reverence for Arab princes. They know this and, for their part, don’t respect him and carefully hide their Bedouin contempt behind white covers.
There is a lot of disagreements, but the weather is not yet hot, it is mild, and with air-conditioning and marble under high ceilings of palaces, it will be cool. In such atmosphere the high parties will talk on subjects that cost hundreds of billions of dollars (will definitely not exclude oil and weapons), so externally the meeting will take place magnificently in every respect.
Whatever you may say, to meet with the King is nevertheless pleasant for anyone, and considering something so significant, it is not surprising that the Royal theme will continue on Friday, but in the UK.
Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will have a dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor castle, near London. The day before, on April 21st, she will turn 90, so that would be a reason to celebrate. In the evening in the capital, in the more modest Kensington Palace, there will be a dinner with Prince Harry. This is after official talks with the Prime Minister.
In Germany, where Obama will be on Sunday, the monarchs will not be there, but there is Angela Merkel, who has been in power for 11 years, a period of almost a Royal.
A large industrial exhibition in Hanover, which he will visit, also corresponds to what the scale of the market can be, but really, it’ll never make it all the way back to Barack Obama. It’s almost as if he is trying to prove that he received the Nobel peace prize in 2009 in vain.
And most importantly, with this tour he wants to say that he is not a “lame duck”, and even though he’s leaving, much from him is up in the air. And it sends another signal: the Middle East and Europe are now so closely connected that without the “help” of the US, they cannot manage.
Obama’s Middle Eastern debt before Clinton
Barack Obama always thought historically, while vital, it is often far from reality. He wants desperately to avoid leaving a trail of talks about the US’ relationship with the Arab monarchies unpleasantly worsening during his presidency.
It is important both for him personally and for Hillary Clinton, who is the main Democrat in the presidential election in November, to correct this image. To help her to win, Obama needs to show strength and to achieve success.
In the Middle East there has been no such success. On the contrary, the US is faced with surprises. The response must be “clear and confident, just like what Putin is doing in Syria.” I heard this passage recently, unbelievably, from one of the Saudi princes. He did not agree with the policy of Russia, but he gave credit to the nature of their activities, unlike Obama, as was immediately noticed.
Barack Obama always hesitates and does things that, under the recitative of his beautiful speeches, seem to be contradictory, and therefore absurd. He announces that he will withdraw troops from all neighbours and also the Middle East. He, when faced with reality, sends the US military in again — it is the case now in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Syria, and in Libya too – to strike blows.
Obama with two melons in one hand
Many Arabs, and especially Saudi Arabia, fear Iran is gaining weight. And Obama chose Iran, began to establish a relationship with them, and the Arabs can’t forgive him. Although now they still pretend that they are ready to turn the page, betting on the arrival of the new leader of the United States.
Some even expect that before the election, Obama will come to his senses and give up on the Persians. Moreover, he is no stranger to winning back and surrendering old allies (remember President Mubarak in Egypt), and really he is traveling there to talk about the new companions in the face of the Iranians.
Barack Obama wants, however, as they say in the East, to hold two melons in one hand – to maintain cooperation with those and with others. He wants in the future to reconcile with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Meanwhile, to appease the Arabs, each time nervously reacting to the test by Iran of its medium-range missiles, the Americans are willing to offer them the latest missile defense system.
One cure for fear is a new concept of cooperation between NATO and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG), which includes six monarchies.
Regarding what the plans are, Secretary of state John Kerry stated this when he met with his counterparts from the GCC in Bahrain on 7th April, held ahead of Obama’s visit.
The General who came up with the recipe for the Arabs
There are suggestions that the author of these ideas, in part, is the American General James Jones, who in the first few years of Obama’s presidency was his national security adviser. He participated in the Vietnam war, then the Gulf, and then worked on the Middle East. He is now a consultant and head of a research center.
The General thinks that the NATO Alliance “must be flexible”, because times have changed, and with it came new threats that require a different response.
Until now, NATO’s cooperation with the Arabs has evolved since the 1990’s, until it was slightly dimmed by the upheaval of 2011. In 1994, the Alliance created a Mediterranean group, which included six Arab Mediterranean countries and Israel. It would often discourage NATO members when the Arabs interacted badly with the Jews.
In 2004, shortly after the NATO summit in Istanbul was established, another group in the partnership, which included several Gulf States, though the main one is Saudi Arabia, did not succumb to the entreaties. One of the objectives of such cooperation was the protection of energy supplies from this region to Europe and the US.
What Obama offers in Riyadh is an old recipe, but in a new package. Nevertheless, he hopes that it will work. But the mutual nosedive due to the ongoing investigation into the terrorist attacks in the US on 11th September 2001, where accusations against someone from the royals continually pop up, is only a dull background for the serious conversations in the palace, which will be all the more compliant.