Obama vision troubling
The article, as Goldberg describes it, is based on previous interviews with President Barack Obama and informal conversations with him and his advisers and friends. During these interviews, Obama attempted to shape his legacy by portraying himself as a different president who led without following the “Washington playbook” on foreign policy, even if that meant abandoning Washington’s strategic allies and emboldening its adversaries. This is particularly true in case of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Although he acknowledges that Iran “has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism… and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” the US President says that Saudi Arabia and Iran “need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood.”
This vision is troubling on many levels. For a start, it not only overlooks the history of Saudi-US relations as well as the US-Iranian confrontations but, more importantly, it misunderstands the essence of the worldview of both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Also, it reduces the security situation in the region to a narrow sectarian tension. This vision explains the failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
A brief look at the history of the political behavior of Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as their strategic visions reveals how out of touch Obama is with the region. The two countries differ in their political values, visions of regional stability and views. The current Iranian government follows a revolutionary ideology.
In 1979, Khomeini declared that the revolution is “a fight between Islam and blasphemy, between ourselves and America.” He went further to stress: “We must strive to export our revolution throughout the world.” Since then, the Iranian foreign policy has sought to follow this ideology.
Instead of working with states in the region, Iran covertly established revolutionary non-state groups named “the Parties of God” and supported them to dismantle their states and join the revolution. These groups have been destabilizing the region, to the extent of attacking foreign embassies against international norms. The Iranian political behavior during the last four decades illustrates that “sharing” does not exist in the dictionary of that country’s foreign policy.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia has emerged with a genuine desire to assimilate into the international community and establish lasting relationships based on cooperation and friendship. In 1926, the late King Abdulaziz, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, described his vision in the following words: “As we have rights that others are bound to recognize, we also have obligations to respectable foreign countries. We must honor all the covenants that we have made with them.”
He envisioned building the Kingdom on Islamic foundations and, at the same time, adhering to modern international norms and laws. As a founding member of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is based on regional and international cooperation, good-neighborly and bilateral relations to serve regional and international security. These are not merely empty slogans; the history of Saudi political behavior in the region mirrors these principles. In Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Kuwait, the Kingdom has exerted tremendous efforts and spent billions of dollars in foreign aid to ensure regional stability.
Saudi Arabia has a long history of mediation and conflict prevention in the region. During the civil war in Lebanon, for instance, the Kingdom played a major role in seeking regional consensus and achieving peaceful settlement. The generous Saudi foreign aid, which puts it on the top of the list among the world’s largest donors, reached people in need in Yemen, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and Iran, regardless of their ethnicity or sectarian identity.
The deteriorating security situation in the region is driven more by political than sectarian forces. Failing states and extremist groups have escalated sectarianism in order to mobilize people for their own benefit. For Iran, sectarianism is the only remaining link with its failing allies. For stable states, however, sectarianism is counterproductive as it disintegrates the state into rival factions. For Saudi Arabia, in particular, violent sectarian extremism is one of the main threats to its national security. Therefore, the Kingdom is waging a war on two fronts simultaneously — against the Shiite Houthi militia in the south and Daesh in the north. It is important to note that Saudi Arabia did not embark on these military campaigns until the two militias posed an imminent threat to the land of the country.
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