The Gulf Cooperation Council in the Rear View Mirror and the Front Windshield: Navigating the Shoals of Regional Uncertainties

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In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 9 December 2018 will witness the 39th summit gathering of an institution without peer. This writer, who is here in the Kingdom’s capital, is scheduled to be present as The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, presides over the 39th Meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s Supreme Council, a grouping of Arab rulers and/or their chief representatives.

The GCC was founded in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in May 1981 at a summit, which it was my privilege also to attend, by the sovereigns of the half dozen countries that line the entire length of the western coast of the Gulf. All six are adjacent to the Islamic Republic of Iran, their maritime neighbor. The GCC’s six member-states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A Grouping of Strategically Vital States

Among the world’s 130 emerging and former foreign dominated countries, no other grouping of governments can be reckoned to be as powerful and influential as the GCC. The reason? Collectively, they control thirty percent of the planet’s proven reserves of oil, the vital strategic commodity on which the world’s economies rely.

It is of course true that America’s supplies of shale oil in the past several years have made an enormous difference in global energy production. Indeed, their discovery and accelerated output have catapulted the United States to the position of the world’s largest oil producer. Even so, America has long been the earth’s largest user, greatest importer, and most prominent waster of oil and gas.

There’s a compelling reason for the first two of these observations. Without hydrocarbon fuels, the standard of living, material wellbeing, and the overall level of comfort of every person in the United States would be lower. Despite this, the rest of the world’s peoples are puzzled as to why Americans also remain the planet’s single loudest whiner about the prices, usage, and role of such fuels. An abiding reason has to do with how relatively inexpensive many fuels are in the United States compared to other countries. Even so, this steadily depleting natural resource continues to be among the most important drivers of world economic growth.

GCC foreign ministers meet on the sidelines of the 10th GCC Summit in Muscat, Oman. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony, 1989.

In addition, the six GCC countries include within their midst the epicenter of prayer and pilgrimage for the Islamic world. The faith and spiritual devotion of the 1.7 billion Muslims’ worldwide – nearly a fourth of humanity – is anchored here more than any place else.
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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Visit to the United States: A Personal Perspective

On March 23, 2018, Al Jazeera Arabic’s program Min Washington, a weekly current affairs show hosted by Dr. Abderrahim Foukara, interviewed National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony.

The focus of the interview was on Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The Crown Prince is currently visiting the United States.

Following is a transcript of the interview. Included at the end is an additional question asked and answered that did not make it into the program’s final cut. The transcript has been edited for clarity.


Min Washington: Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Dr. John Duke Anthony has followed developments in the Arab region closely for decades. This includes Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Anthony, how do you assess the visit of the Crown Prince to the United States and its timing?

Dr. Anthony: What Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince is doing is what he has not yet done extensively beyond his meetings with U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., and various private sector leaders in New York City.

In this instance, he is spending time in those two cities again but with additional groups and individuals in both places and, also, in other locations such as Boston, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley in California.

Beyond meetings in Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the United States has included (clockwise starting at top) discussions with Christian and Jewish religious leaders, meetings with former U.S. leaders such as former President Bill Clinton, coffee with businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, and the signing of an agreement with SoftBank and its founder Masayoshi Son to develop an ambitious $200 billion solar power project. Photos: Saudi Press Agency and Saudi Royal Court.

He is doing this for two broad strategic reasons.

One stems from his awareness that he is largely unknown to large and significant sectors among the American people.

The other is his wanting to build on the meetings he had last year with President Trump and members of his staff – here as well as in Riyadh.

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The U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relationship: New Challenges and Opportunities

The close strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been vital for the security and prosperity of both countries as well as for regional peace and stability.

This historical relationship has never been more important than it is today, mainly for two intertwined reasons: the change in the complex security landscape of the Middle East and the change within Saudi Arabia.

President Trump’s administration came into office during an unprecedented tumultuous time in the history of the Middle East. The system of the modern nation state is crumbling, states are falling apart, and armed non-state actors are proliferating.

In the face of all this, the Trump administration inherited a Middle East foreign policy quagmire, in which the US plays the slightest role in influencing the events in the region. Due to vital US interests in the region, President Trump embarked on a Middle East foreign policy overhaul to put “America first” on this front.

The major themes of President Trump’s Middle East policy are eradicating terrorism, confronting the danger from Iran, and revitalizing partnerships with stable regional partners. Saudi Arabia appears to be the most reliable and suitable partner for implementing this policy. In addition to being a long-standing traditional partner, Saudi Arabia shares the US concerns on the threat posed by Iran.

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Continuity Amidst Transformation: Reflections on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Visit to the United States

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud begins a visit to the United States today. He is reported to be planning stops in several cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Houston, Seattle, and San Francisco. The occasion will mark his second official visit to the United States since Donald Trump assumed the U.S. Presidency and Mohammed bin Salman’s first official visit since assuming the post of Crown Prince in June 2017.

Roots of the Relationship

In considering the modern U.S.-Saudi Arabian strategic partnership, reference is often made to a meeting the Crown Prince’s grandfather, King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, had with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 14, 1945. That historic visit had the two heads of state sitting and exchanging views with one another aboard the U.S. Navy’s U.S.S. Quincy in the Great and Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal. Academics, scholars, media specialists, policymakers, and foreign affairs specialists of all stripes have ever since referred to that visit as “historic.”

Yes, that visit was historic in the sense that it occurred on a certain date in time. Except for the fact that those two outsized heads of state met each other for the first and only time then and there, however, the encounter was far less “historic” in the usual sense of the term than countless commentators have since made it out to be. To be sure, a myth about what transpired at that meeting is deeply embedded in the literature and lore of the American and Saudi Arabian peoples.

King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the U.S.S. Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal in Egypt on February 14, 1945. Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

The truth, however, is that the so-called Saudi Arabian-American love affair dates not from the meeting between the U.S. President and the Saudi Arabian King in 1945. Neither does it stem from the discovery earlier by American engineers, aided by skilled Saudi Arabian Bedouin guides, of a Kingdom-based petroleum bonanza in 1938 the likes of which the world had never seen before and has not seen since.

Rather, the roots of the special relationship date from decades before – from 1917 onwards. The seeds of the extraordinary one-of-a-kind international special strategic partnership of the American-Saudi Arabian alliance that has lasted to this day were laid then by others. None among them were officials of either country’s modern government.

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The Middle East Today: Where To?

Keynote speech by HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal delivered at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 26th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference on October 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

The Middle East today is in a state of turmoil as never before. I will limit my talk to issues causing disorder and anarchy and on my hopes for a peaceful, secure, and stable region.

Looking into today’s prevailing conditions and state of affairs in the Middle East, particularly, the Arab region, we find no credible signs that call for much optimism: strategically, it is vulnerable on all fronts and is widely exposed to all possibilities. This strategic vulnerability is as old as the establishment of the nation-state order following World War I. However, catastrophic events during the past decades such as the recurring Arab-Israeli wars and conflicts, the Lebanese civil war, the Iraq-Iran prolonged war, the invasion of Kuwait, the invasion of Iraq, and constant foreign interventions have contributed greatly to this vulnerability. Coupled with this is the failure of many of our states in facing the shared and constantly looming threats to our existence and to our people. Poor social, economic, educational, and cultural policies, and the selfishness that characterized some Arab leaders’ foreign and domestic policies for decades are causes of this mess.

All of what we witness nowadays unfolding and that was exposed by what is called the “Arab Spring” is but an indictment of these policies and natural results of it. In Iraq it has led it to becoming a failed state with a collapsing society; the cause of Syria’s free falling into a swamp of blood, destruction, desolation, terrorism, conspiracies and foreign interventions; the cause of the sinking of Yemen into an inferno of conflict and civil war; the cause of the failure of the Libyan state; the unrest in other Arab countries; the cause of the spread of the transnational phenomenon of terrorism within many of our states; the cause of the spread of armed militias that are not under the control of nation states; and the spread of appalling sectarianism and other negative development. All that is a condensed representation of our deplorable state of affairs.

Our unenviable present was the future of our recent past, and the way we deal with our present is the future awaiting us. It is imperative that we must consciously learn from the pitfalls of the past. We must plan our future wisely and be alert at all times if we want to avoid a catastrophic future. We must courageously face the challenges that threaten our existence and attain a visionary approach to the future, if we wish to attain a decent place on the world stage.

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