Obama, a Huron in the Complicated Middle East

The flop at the summit of Gulf nations at Camp David is the latest consequence of the American president’s mistakes in the Syrian conflict.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime has not relented. And in the fierce struggle to defend the Alawite strongholds, it continues to use chemical weapons against rebel troops and civilians. This is the result of the discovery in early May of traces of sarin and VX gases following bombardments by the Syrian air force, especially in the village of Iblin. This week Antony Blinken, the American deputy secretary of state, acknowledged “strong and credible evidence” of helicopters attacking rebel areas with barrels of chlorine. Samantha Davies,* the American ambassador to the United Nations, went a step further, saying “only troops loyal to Assad use helicopters.”**

These discoveries alone would already have doomed the summit with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which the American president organized for May 12 and 13 in Washington and Camp David, to failure. This is because since the end of 2013, Obama has not stopped congratulating himself for succeeding in diverting the danger of chemical warfare in the Middle East by forcing Assad to hand over his arsenal to be destroyed, thanks to an agreement concluded with Russian help. But the events in Syria during the last few days show that this is not the case. They constitute the latest affront to an American diplomacy whose main characteristic is indecisiveness, just as Obama’s back-down in September 2013 demonstrated, where at the last minute he refused military action that he had promised to take “if the Syrians crossed the red line of using chemical weapons.”*

So how do you convince the leaders of the Arab states who agreed to come to Camp David that the agreements being drafted on the Iranian nuclear issue will guarantee them that Tehran will not be able to equip itself with these weapons of mass destruction, while Syria is showing on a daily basis that it is laughing in the face of these scraps of paper, even if they’re countersigned by Obama and Putin?


In an attempt to rescue his summit, which has already been snubbed by King Salman of Saudi Arabia as well as the monarchs of Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Obama has tried to show his partners who made the journey to the United States that he was not fooled by the danger posed by Iran. “The countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations,” the American president declared in a opinion column published by the Saudi news site Asharq Al-Awsat. Obama also cited examples of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen and of course Assad in Syria. But these reassuring words will definitely not be enough to ease the concerns of the petro-monarchies.

They could finally have accepted the agreement that the U.S. wanted to drag out of Iran before the June 30 deadline, without approving it, on the condition that America promised to defend them at all costs, using the model of the defense agreements concluded with Japan, South Korea or NATO members. But the dialogue that occurred between John Kerry and the Saudis, especially in Paris during the May 8 commemorations, showed that the Americans didn’t want to make such a far-reaching commitment. The region is too eruptive and Israel’s security remains an obstacle to any military agreement binding the Arab nations.

You can trust the White House’s spokesman to pass off the summit as a diplomatic success, but in reality it is a fiasco. The truth is that Obama — fixated by Iran’s potential treasure trove that, thanks to the end of the embargo, will contain a war chest of $150 billion — has perhaps put an end to the 70-year alliance with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. This puts America at risk of being replaced as the preferential partner in defense matters. That would be a lesser evil as long as the candidates were democratic countries like France. But others, such as Pakistan, will undoubtedly not dissuade King Salman from equipping himself with nuclear weapons like his Iranian rival.

*Editor’s note: This is a factual error from the article. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is Samantha Power.

**Editor’s note: This quote, though accurately translated, could not be directly sourced.

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