National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony met yesterday with Qatar’s Foreign Minister H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha.
National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony met privately with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today following Abbas’ visit with President Trump at The White House.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. 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.
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.
This week President Obama will travel to Riyadh to meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The next day he is scheduled to meet with leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
According to a White House Press Briefing, these meetings will be broken into three sessions – one on regional stability, one on defeating ISIL and al-Qaeda and counterterrorism cooperation, and one on Iran and efforts to prevent the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing actions across the region.
The day before the meeting of the two heads of state, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to meet with Saudi Arabian and GCC nation defense officials. According to U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, that meeting will focus on “enhancing GCC capability, interoperability and how to confront asymmetrical threats.” Mr. Rhodes also expects that the U.S. Defense Secretary “will have specific conversations about how to enhance certain defense capabilities across the Gulf.” Whether this might advance further consideration of a reported pan-GCC missile defense system in which several GCC members have expressed an interest and willingness to purchase – and which the American aerospace and defense manufacturing sectors remain prepared to sell, though there are reports that the Israel lobby and a leading American think tank are allegedly opposed – remains unclear.
Sticks and Stones
President Obama’s visit comes at a propitious moment. It will take place at a time when aspects of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and GCC countries are being vilified. U.S. domestic political campaign rhetoric, legislation contemplated by the U.S. Congress, the media, and special interests are seemingly opposed to strengthening and expanding America’s strategic, economic, national security, and related interests with and in Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries. In addition, the visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s comments in a recent article in The Atlantic in which he was characterized as portraying various Arab and GCC allies as “free riders” and thinking that Saudi Arabia needs to “share” the neighborhood with Iran. If the quoted remarks accurately depict the President’s views, the implication is inescapable: namely, such comments from a sitting U.S. President can only cause America’s longstanding GCC allies to wonder how the U.S. head of state really analyzes and assesses their value as strategic partners and American allies in what is arguably the world’s most vital region.