Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia

On June 9, 2016, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee hosted a public affairs briefing on “Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.

Nawaf Althari, Counter-Terrorism Adviser for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Permanent Mission to the United Nations, addresses a National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Capitol Hill public affairs briefing on June 9, 2016.

The featured specialist was Mr. Nawaf Althari, Counter-Terrorism Adviser for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and Member, U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and Subcommittee on Sanctions, served as moderator and facilitator.

A video recording and a podcast of the program are available below. The podcast can also be found in iTunes along with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

“Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia: A Conversation with the United Nations’ Nawaf Althari” podcast (.mp3)

Dr. John Duke Anthony on “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?”

On May 11, 2016, Dr. John Duke Anthony spoke to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs on the subject “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?” A video recording of the program is available below, and a podcast of the program is also available below as well as in iTunes with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

Dr. John Duke Anthony – “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?” podcast (.mp3)

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Presents its First-Ever Global Philanthropic and Humanitarian Achievements Award to His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud

Washington, DC: On May 8, 2016, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (National Council) was honored and privileged to present its first-ever Global Philanthropic and Humanitarian Achievements Award to HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. The award was presented in recognition of his tireless and magnanimous efforts in helping to build a world of greater tolerance, acceptance, respect, equality, opportunity, and justice for all.

National Council Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony, Council Board Member Ms. Paige Peterson, and Council Executive Vice President Mr. Patrick Mancino personally conveyed the award to Prince Alwaleed.

Dr. Anthony noted that Prince Alwaleed, through his charitable organization Alwaleed Philanthropies, has pledged to donate his entire $32 billion fortune to charity. In making this promise, Prince Alwaleed said: “Philanthropy is a personal responsibility, which I embarked upon more than three decades ago and is an intrinsic part of my Islamic faith. With this pledge, I am honoring my lifelong commitment to what matters most – helping to build a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable world for generations to come.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies serves millions of people across the globe. It collaborates with a range of philanthropic, governmental, and educational organizations to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief, and create cultural understanding through education. Prince Alwaleed has already donated $3.5 billion over 35 years to find impactful solutions to some of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time, without regard to gender, race, or religious affiliation.

Information about Alwaleed Philanthropies can be found at alwaleedphilanthropies.org.

Information about the National Council can be found at ncusar.org.

In Memoriam, A Giant Has Fallen: Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016)

This past week, a larger than life figure among us fell physically. Although in our presence his body is no more, as example, as role model, and as inspiration, he is still in front of, beside, and behind us – and will remain so for a very long time to come.

Ambassador Clovis Maksoud’s reputation was legendary as far back as during my studies at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in the 1960s.

Whenever one had the privilege and pleasure to meet and be with as well as briefed by Clovis, regardless of the subject, one could not but revel in his perennially upbeat personality and marvel at the many unrivaled aspects of his professionalism. Among humanity’s orally gifted and silver-tongued orators, Clovis could be, and in numerous instances was, nothing short of spellbinding. Certainly, he earned my awe early on. Never once in my presence did he use notes or even have, for easy recall, a slip of paper tucked away on which he had written something.

Whatever the subject he happened to be addressing, Clovis was invariably not only articulate; he was also frequently eloquent. His delivery and diction were flawless. Indeed, one at times had reason to wonder whether he had switched languages, for his use of English could be inventive – more than a few will acknowledge that, sometimes, it took a bit of getting used to the kinds of words and phrases he used with unsurpassed exactitude to hammer home his points. Even now one can hear him thundering about the cause that remained to the end dearer to him than any other, that of the Palestinians.

Who can forget Clovis’ forever repeating that, among the biggest obstacles to strengthening and expanding the Arab-U.S. relationship were the United States’ history and policies with respect to Palestine? These, he never tired of emphasizing, lay at the heart of what he aptly termed America’s “crisis of conscience.”

H.E. Ambassador Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016).

H.E. Ambassador Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016).

What Clovis was and stood for to the last – in the way of unbridled conviction, steadfast commitment, and unflinching moral courage – are bedrock guidelines by which one can live a purposeful, meaningful, and contributive life. What he epitomized – in his manners and elemental decency, in his unfailing kindness, and in his manifesting the gamut of Arab, Islamic, Middle Eastern Christian, Druze, and other humanistic values, ideals, and principles to which so many aspire – has left an indelible impression not just upon me but many.

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An Open-Door Policy to Combat Islamophobia

National and Local Responses to Islam: Washington, D.C.’s Diyanet Center

This article originally appeared in The Islamic Monthly on March 18, 2016.

Despite President Barack Obama’s record on counterterrorism and civil liberties issues — including drone strikes that kill innocent civilians and the National Security Agency’s spying on American Muslims — many Muslims were relieved when the “most important public figure in the land” finally visited a mosque in February. In his speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama pushed back against the Islamophobia that has characterized the Republican side of the presidential race, condemning the “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.”

In response, Donald Trump, referencing his long-standing suggestion that Obama is Muslim, sneered, “Maybe he feels comfortable [in a mosque].” Marco Rubio, in a more subtle — and perhaps more insidious — reaction, said that through the visit, Obama was dividing Americans along ethnic, racial and religious lines. “Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind,” he added. “But the bigger issue is radical Islam.” Rubio thus implied that standing up for equal rights for Muslim Americans will hinder efforts to capture terrorists. Author Max Fisher notes this “suggests that all Muslims should be treated as second-class citizens.”

Such is (part of) U.S. officialdom’s rhetoric regarding Islam in our country, along with horrific hate crimes such as last year’s killing of students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the Obama administration’s policies. And such is the climate in which the Diyanet Center of America, or DCA, exists.

The DCA recently opened in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Lanham, Maryland. The Turkish government mainly funds the Islamic complex, which is one of the largest in the United States. (The Diyanet is the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs.) The complex includes a mosque, Turkish baths, a restaurant, outdoor tennis courts, guest villas and a cultural center.

The mosque was constructed with white marble and in a style similar to the mosques of Turkey’s famous 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan.

The mosque was constructed with white marble and in a style similar to the mosques of Turkey’s famous 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan.

My visit to the DCA fell on a cold and rainy Wednesday. Driving down Good Luck Road, on which the complex is situated, the mosque came suddenly and dramatically into view, its two minarets puncturing the gray sky. It was constructed with white marble and in a style similar to the mosques of Turkey’s famous 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan.

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Oman: The Pearl of Arabia

Arriving in the Sultanate of Oman you feel as if you are on a Hollywood set. Orderly. Vast. Visually breathtaking. Often visitors liken it to Disneyland. Controlled. Well-organized, meticulously maintained public grounds. Friendly. Happy. Helpful. Tolerant. No litter. No vagrancy. No graffiti. No terrorism. No violence. No radicalism. No unsafe areas. Did I mention exquisitely clean…It is all this and more.

Oman is an Arabian dreamscape. I’ve never seen such well-planned urban development. Architectural details are carefully mandated here. Many of the buildings are 46 years young; they’re well thought out in placement and accessibility. Even the street lamps in the cities and on the highways are lyrically beautiful in their repetitive form. There is something calming and reassuring about this consistent elegance.

The Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development building in Muscat.

This tranquility is the hallmark of the capital city of Muscat. Muscat means “place of anchorage.” There you find a visual feast of stylish, controlled, and unified structures that underpin the deliberately skyscraper-free skyline. Here a hyper white Arab style of architecture is juxtaposed against the rough rocky landscape of the Hajar Mountains and the blue Gulf of Oman. Oman is an architectural treasure in Arabia.

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The Establishment of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Office in Washington, D.C.

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony recently returned from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He arrived on the heels of President Obama’s second summit meeting with representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, together with the GCC Secretary General. Following is a special report on a little-noted development that transpired at the meetings.

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At the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday, April 21 in Riyadh for a U.S.-GCC Summit.

One of Obama’s primary goals for the summit was to reassure these U.S. strategic allies and partners that the United States is committed to countering threats to the GCC.

U.S. Statements of Intentions

The president could not have been clearer in stating that, “I reaffirm the policy of the United States to use all elements of our power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and our partners.”

In the same vein, Obama was tough on Iran in his rhetoric, noting that the United States, even with its nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, has “serious concerns about Iranian behavior.”

Obama and the GCC leaders also spoke about other issues including ISIS, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and Lebanon.

President Barack Obama met with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 21, 2016. The summit meeting came almost a year after Obama hosted his GCC counterparts in the United States for a summit at Camp David. Photo: The White House.

President Barack Obama met with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 21, 2016. The summit meeting came almost a year after Obama hosted his GCC counterparts in the United States for a summit at Camp David. Photo: The White House.

King Salman said the summit was “constructive and fruitful” and thanked Obama for “enhancing the consultation and cooperation between the GCC countries and the U.S.”

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Arabia to Asia: The Myths of an American “Pivot” and Whether or Not There’s a U.S. Strategy Toward the GCC Region

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That the foreign policies of various governments often appear to be confusing or contradictory is because they frequently are. During Barack Obama’s presidency, such inconsistency has seemed to characterize aspects of America’s relations with the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies it is among the things that Obama has sought to dispel and clarify in the course successively of his March 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia, his May 2015 summit at Camp David with senior leaders of all six GCC countries, and his mid-April 2016 attendance at a similar meeting with leaders of the same countries. As this essay seeks to demonstrate, what he has had to contend with – and what others of late have had to contend with regarding aspects of his administration — in terms of background, context, and perspective has not been easy of resolution, amelioration, or even abatement.

Assumptions, Ambitions, and Abilities

Dating from before and since these high-level GCC-U.S. meetings, Washington has taken steps to strengthen and extend America’s overall position and influence in the GCC region. A principal means for doing so has been through the GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.[1] But one example among several was when former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, came with approvals for billions of dollars in sales of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, and arms to GCC countries, together with long-term munitions and maintenance contracts.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Yet, simultaneously, signals from Washington and the mainstream U.S. media before and since Obama’s meetings with his GCC counterparts have not always been as clear as the signalers thought would or should be the case. That said, what specialists have had no doubt about for some time is that the Obama administration is recalibrating the strategic focus of its international priorities in hopes of being able to accomplish two objectives at the same time. One objective has been, and continues to be, a steadfast resolve to remain committed to the security, stability, and prospects for prosperity in the GCC region. The other has been and remains a parallel determination to emphasize the Asia-Pacific regions.

Affecting the need for such a recalibration have been major U.S. budget reductions and their impact on strategic concepts, forces, and operational dynamics. At issue and under examination in this regard, according to the Secretary of Defense in advance of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, America’s assumptions, ambitions, and abilities.

Understandably, the GCC region’s reaction to these trends and indications was and continues to be mixed.

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