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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Stars of the National Council’s Model Arab League Head to Qatar

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO, and U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee Founder, Board Member, and Secretary Dr. John Duke Anthony, presently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to attend the annual GCC summit, spent the past ten days in Doha, Qatar. He did so as leader of a delegation participating in a cultural study visit sponsored by Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The National Council’s Model Arab League delegation takes in a sunset along the corniche in Doha.

The visit was a reward for a delegation of five American faculty advisers and ten U.S. university and armed forces institutions students. The participants were Outstanding Award Winners in the National Council’s Model Arab League Program (MAL), which began in the early 1980s and presently has 38,000 alumni.

The Models are conducted for some 2,500 university and secondary school participants 20 times a year at a nearly equal number of U.S. universities. The Council has also helped to establish Model Arab League Programs conducted yearly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain and Oman in the process of establishing their first-ever programs this year and Qatar’s Gulf Studies Program (see below) intending to organize the first-ever MAL devoted exclusively to the six GCC member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

During their time in Qatar, the delegation members visited and had briefings at the Qatar Foundation, the Museum of Islamic Art, the National Human Rights Committee, Al Jazeera, Katara Cultural Village, the Qatar National Museum, and various branch campuses of blue-ribbon American universities. They also spent an evening with a Qatari family at their farm and sailed on an Arab dhow – a traditional “sundowner” experience, with Doha’s glittering skyline of modernist buildings as the backdrop for photography.

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CCUSAR Spring 2015 “NEWSLINES”

2015-newslines-200x257The Carolinas Committee on U.S.-Arab Relations (CCUSAR), with Dr. Joe P. Dunn serving as Director, is an affiliate of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Dr. Dunn is an alumni of the Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies Program, the coordinator of the Southeast Model Arab League, and the faculty advisor heading the Converse College Model Arab League program. CCUSAR recently published its Spring 2015 “NEWSLINES” newsletter featuring:

The full issue of CCUSAR’s Spring 2015 NEWSLINES is available for download through the link immediate below.

DOWNLOAD “CCUSAR NEWSLINES (Spring 2015)” (.pdf file)

The GCC-U.S. Summit: An Opportunity for Strategic Reassurance?

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An unprecedented and extraordinary event is about to occur: a heads of state summit. These, by any standard, can be and often are extraordinary events. That’s what this one is. It is so because it gathers in the capital of the United States President Barack Obama with the representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The two-day summit is set for May 13-14, 2015.

GCC leaders are scheduled to meet with the president in Washington on day one and on day two gather with him in the more capacious and secluded confines of Camp David. The latter venue is a longtime private presidential meeting place in the Maryland foothills, which is conducive to wide-ranging and deeply probing discussions on matters of common, timely, and varying degrees of urgent interest to the president, his advisers, his guests, and their advisers. The focus of this essay is the issues, challenges, and opportunities that will focus the principals’ attention while there.

The Summit’s Participants in Context

That the summit is occurring at this time is no mere coincidence. In terms of the GCC-U.S. relationship, it brings to the forefront the chief representative of the world’s most militarily, economically, and technologically advanced nation. Joining him will be the leaders of six neighboring Arab Gulf countries from what is arguably the world’s most strategically vital region that are little known and even less well understood by the American people as a whole.

What needs to be better comprehended by the American public regarding these countries are the roots and nature of their multifaceted strategic importance not just to their peoples and immediate region, but also the United States and the world in general. To begin with, the six GCC countries possess thirty per cent of the planet’s proven reserves of oil, the vital strategic commodity that drives the world’s economies. Collectively, they are also the holders of the developing world’s largest reservoir of financial assets, as measured in the trillions of dollars.

Crude Oil 2014 Proved Reserves.

In addition, the GCC countries have no rivals in their combined positive impact on the American aerospace and defense industries. In the past half-decade, their purchases of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, weaponry, ammunition, training, maintenance, and operational assistance have massively impacted and continue to impact the American economy.

The dynamism and mutuality of benefits in the U.S.-GCC relationship are envied by virtually every country that wishes it could accomplish anything remotely similar.

The purchases of American export goods and services by these countries have provided jobs essential to the material wellbeing of millions of Americans. They have extended production lines of products that would otherwise no longer be available. As a consequence, they have lowered the cost per unit of many American manufactured goods. In so doing, they have thereby enhanced the competitiveness of this component of the American economy to a degree envied by virtually every government or corporation in other countries that would wish they could accomplish anything remotely similar.

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The Consolidation of a New Arab Political Order

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Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces' spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign.

Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces’ spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

While the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against the Yemeni Houthis and their allies continues and its long-term results are so far unknown, it is not pre-mature to project that a new Arab political order is being consolidated. Its elements include a firm and sustainable commitment to fight extremism and sectarianism, bring order and stability to the heart of the Arab world – namely, Syria and Iraq – and design, chart, and lead an independent course for the protection of pan-Arab national interests.

Such an order has a leader in the collective energies and capabilities of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia as a first among equals, and essential assistance from such countries as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Indeed, to assure its collective interests, arrive at a hoped-for peaceful stability, and sustain much needed political, economic, and social development, the Arab world must coalesce around a strong political order that can utilize its capacities and permissible international conditions to achieve what it needs and deserves. Importantly, the consolidated new Arab political order appears to emphasize essential principles that require astute judgment, committed resources, and continuous vigilance.

Fighting Extremism and Sectarianism

The status quo states of the new Arab order are cognizant of the threats represented by the plethora of extremist groups operating at the heart of the Arab world. In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has staked a claim in Hadramawt Province abutting the Saudi Arabian border after it lost its bases in Shabwa and Abyan to the west. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has erased the borders between the two countries in a mission to re-establish an imagined and borderless Islamic Caliphate while al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front controls strategic areas of Syria. Both organizations are serious threats to Lebanon and its pluralist political society.

In Libya, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar ash-Shari’a, and a sundry of militias have settled, and promise to both keep the country unstable and use it as a base to spread chaos and mayhem elsewhere. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadist extremists are waging a war of attrition against state security institutions. The actors of the consolidating Arab political order must know full well that they alone can address this threat in a fashion that combines a sense of shared responsibility for common interests and an attempt at forging an independent course that serves such interests.

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NCUSAR & Qatar Delegation Ring January 29, 2015 NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell

A delegation from the State of Qatar joined the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations to ring the NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell on January 29, 2015.

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, shares a robust economic, defense, cultural, and educational relationship with the United States. The Qatari delegation included Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Special Envoy to His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani; His Excellency Ali Sheriff Al Emadi, Minister of Finance for the State of Qatar; Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saoud Al Thani, Governor of the Qatar Central Bank; Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Thani, Chief Executive Officer of the Qatar Investment Authority; and His Excellency Mohammed Bin Jaham Al Kuwari, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States.

Mr. Patrick Mancino, Executive Vice President and Director of Development, and Mr. Nabil Sharaf, Public Relations Specialist, represented the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

 

2014 Model Arab League Study Visit to Qatar Pictures

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations led a delegation of ten students and five university faculty members, all selected from the Council’s Model Arab League program, on a study visit to Qatar from November 28 – December 5, 2014. The visit provided the American students and faculty members an opportunity to explore the dynamics of some of the major economic, political, and social determinants of Qatar’s culture as well as the country’s modernization and development.

Some pictures from the study visit are available below.

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