No tears shed in GCC over Obama’s exit

Unpredictable nature of new US president Donald Trump means that many pundits are cautious.

Gulf leaders counted seconds to see end of Obama administration

2017/01/29 Issue: 91 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Mohammed Alkhereiji

London - After eight years of dis­appointment, frustra­tion and empty rhetoric, Inauguration Day 2017 in the United States could not have come soon enough for some in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Gulf Arab leaders counted the seconds to see the end of the Obama administration, a presidency viewed by many in the region as a stab in the back.

Across the Gulf, official news agencies carried congratulatory messages, highlighting historic ties to the United States, coupled with statements seeking to boost rela­tions. The optimistic diplomatic tone could not mask the reality, however, that relations suffered a significant setback during the eight years Barack Obama was in office.

Relations turned for the worst after the “Arab spring” protests in 2011, when Gulf Arab leaders viewed the US government’s aban­donment of Egyptian president and long-time US ally Hosni Mubarak as a betrayal. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al- Nahyan labelled Obama “untrust­worthy”.

As far as Saudi Arabia was con­cerned, the Mubarak issue was just the beginning.

Riyadh and its intelligence com­munity were reportedly shocked to learn that the United States had secret negotiations with arch-rival Iran, talks that led to the 2015 nu­clear deal in exchange for sanc­tions relief. Despite the obligatory public endorsement of the deal by Saudi and GCC officials, behind closed doors the fear was that lift­ing the sanctions would empower the Islamic Republic to continue its destabilising regional activities.

Obama’s lack of engagement in Syria, which resulted in the resur­gence of Russia as a regional power for the first time since the Afghan war and led to the survival of the Iran-allied regime of Syrian Presi­dent Bashar Assad, further alien­ated traditional US allies.

During a January 24th news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Ri­yadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom looked forward to working with the Trump administration, which has indi­cated it would be more likely to try to contain Tehran. One of US Presi­dent Donald Trump’s campaign vows was to rip up the nuclear deal or renegotiate its terms.

Jubeir said Trump has “spoken about containing Iran and its ability to cause mischief and making sure that Iran abides to the agreement that was signed”. He emphasised that was also the kingdom’s posi­tion.

The optimistic assessment con­tinued as Jubeir lavished praise on some of the new US president’s cab­inet choices, including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, De­fense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“These are very, very impressive individuals,” Jubeir said. “They’re highly capable. They’re highly ex­perienced and they have a very re­alistic and wise view of the world and America’s role in it.”

No tears were shed in the gov­ernment-friendly GCC media over Obama’s departure; however the unpredictable nature of the new US president meant that many pundits were cautious.

Known for his staunch and some­times overzealous defence of US regional policy, particularly during the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Sau­di commentator and former general manager of the Al Arabiya news channel Abdulrahman al-Rashed appeared cynically optimistic in his assessment of Trump — the reality TV star turned US president. How­ever, his disdain for Obama was palpable.

“Even if Trump calls a truce with Iran, supports Assad in remaining in power in Syria, abstains from supporting millions of refugees and displaced people and keeps silent over Russian expansion, then all these happened during Obama’s era,” Rashed wrote.

“At some point down the line something will happen in the world that will require a careful response, a careful policy and Trump will re­act emotionally,” columnist Faisal al-Yafai wrote in Abu Dhabi’s the National, highlighting fears of Trump’s unpredictable nature.

“That is always going to be the worry. But that’s his attitude. That’s who he is. Those who like Trump like that aspect of his personality,” he added.

A Riyadh businessman took out a full-page ad applauding Trump after his inauguration. Al Arabiya said Muslat al-Sobaie brought the ad after Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud congratulated the new US president and “because he has a transparent and charismatic personality and he is clearly stand­ing strong against Iran, our biggest enemy”.

“I congratulate Your Excellency on the occasion of assuming the leadership of the US and wish you and the friendly American people every success and prosperity dur­ing your term,” the ad read, causing a fire storm of criticism on social media.

“This is a normal situation in a world heaving with different opinions. There are some who are against our goals, country and in­terests,” Sobaie said.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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