America’s relationship with the Middle East has often been characterized by tension, but the long and strong strategic partnership has become especially frayed over the past three years.
Washington sees the trouble today as divergent views over the Arab Spring, Egypt, Syria and Iran.
Within the region, however, nations believe the Obama administration tells allies one thing and then does another, often without consultation.
Saudi Arabia finally became so angry that it publicly rejected a seat on the UN Security Council, prompting US Secretary of State John Kerry to head to the region on a fence-mending mission.
America upset its Arab allies in Egypt when massive street demonstrations prompted Washington to drop its support for Hosni Mubarak; then, when even larger crowds prompted Egypt’s military to oust Mohamed Morsi, America suspended military aid, prompting allies to pledge funds in its place.
Syria has caused even deeper rifts. Fearing it would become embroiled in yet another civil war, the US administration has clung to an unsatisfying middle ground, effectively ensuring Syria remains locked in chaos.
Even after the Assad regime used deadly chemical weapons several times, in direct defiance of the “red line” President Barack Obama had drawn over such actions, America remained indecisive. Then, once Washington had finally agreed to punish the Assad regime, it halted air strikes at the last minute to embrace a Russian plan that preserved the Assad regime by scrapping its chemical arsenal. Obama struck the deal without consulting regional allies.
Now the West is pressing for a swift rapprochement with Iran, a new source of concern for Arabian Gulf allies who live a mere 200 miles from Iran and host key US bases. Again, Washington moved ahead without consulting regional allies.
Picking the right option sometimes means embracing the lesser of two evils, within a strategic framework understood by your allies and enemies. Words and actions send powerful signals to friend and foe alike. Washington must deal with its allies in the true spirit of partnership and engagement.