The relationship between the U.S. and the Sheikh states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been close ever since the 1960s, when Washington took over from London as the principal guarantor of the reign of these monarchs. Hence it is no surprise that the U.S. policy in the Mideast has almost invariably been a compound of two interests, which intersect more often than they compete: that of Israel and the other (those of the GCC countries). The State of Israel is core to U.S. strategic interests, and is the Knowledge Superpower of the region, accounting for more than 95% of its hi-technology creations. Were Israel to have normal relations with the Sheikh states, the latter would benefit via the infusion of technology and intellectual resources that the Jewish state would bring to the table. This columnist has never hidden his view – even while in Tehran or Damascus that the Jewish people are as an entirety the most gifted in the world. Although small in number, they have gifted the world numerous technologies and improvements that have made life longer and better for billions.
To go beyond the region to India, were the world’s most populous democracy to spend as much on Israeli agricultural technology (especially dry land farming) as it does on defense equipment; 300 million citizens of India would not need to go to bed hungry each night. However, while defense is attractive to policymakers, agriculture is not. Unhappily for the region, the U.S. has hardly used its influence to nudge the GCC towards more normal ties with Israel. Were this to happen, the benefits from the interaction would soon be so obvious that it would silence the domestic opposition to closer relations with the Jewish state. Instead of seeking to leverage upwards their own skills, the GCC states are focused on propitiating domestic constituencies that are increasingly becoming out of touch with the wishes of youth in their countries. The spread of the internet has combined with better knowledge of the English language to create in young Arabs a desire to compete in the global marketplace on equal terms, and not simply through the sale of a single – and finite – natural resource. However, the school curricula within the GCC remain archaic and unsuited to a modernized economy. Hence there is a growing disconnect between the young and those making decisions for them, a gap that is generating a sense of insecurity in ruling groups across the region.
Instead of improving the educational infrastructure, enhancing language skills, and seeking to diversify away from petro-products, the GCC states are satiating their insecurity by seeking the overthrow of those they see (often correctly) as foes of their continued power. These are the non-monarchist rulers of nearby states. Muammar Gaddafi was one ruler such, as was Saddam Hussein, while Bashar Assad is another. Two out of the three were eliminated, and the attention is now getting concentrated on removing the third.
Neither Iraq nor Syria is any safer for the GCC potentates than they were under the previous management. The processes of democracy have made Iraq the second major Shia-dominated state within the region after Iran. Theology has brought the two together, trumping geopolitical considerations, which mandate that Baghdad ought to leverage its possession of Shia holy sites to take over the international leadership of the Shias from Tehran. Instead, Baghdad has become a contented Avis, which gloried in being second-best to Hertz. Given the challenge that Shia Islam is now facing from the Sunni-controlled GCC (at least two of whose members, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are not merely Sunni but Wahabbi), it is no surprise that Iraq has resisted the U.S. calls to team up against Iran. As has been mentioned by this analyst in other articles, the members of the NATO seem to have joined with the Wahabbi-Sunni monarchies in the Middle East to battle against the Shia. The U.S., for example, has been vocal about giving a disproportionate share in Iraq’s oil wealth to Sunni Arabs, even while being silent over the far more egregious discrimination meted out to the Shia in Saudi Arabia. Although more than 70% of Saudi oil is in the Shia belt, members of the sect gets less than 2% of the subsidies that go to Sunnis and Wahabbis.
Again, while there has been a rising drumbeat of State Department condemnation of Syria, the response to the repression of the Shia population in Bahrain has been so muted as to be effectively non-existent. As for Iran, although most of the population despises the mullahcracy, the people as a whole are being demonized as a threat to the international order.
Not only in the USINPAC blogs but in other blogs (such as Gatewayhouse.in or the-diplomat.com), this analyst has been critical of the uncritical welcome given to the so-called “Arab Spring”: from the start, forecasting early on that it would end in a “Wahabbi Winter”, which it has. Taking a leaf from the Jihadists in Kashmir, who use the argot of human values and universal right to camouflage their actual intent to set up a Talibanized system of governance, the Wahabbi elements who were assisted by the NATO to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi have now come into the open, imposing their own version of Sharia Law and killing, torturing, and detaining their theological, social and other foes, all this to near-complete silence from Western media or chancelleries. The Libyan example ought to have served as a wake-up call to the U.S., warning policymakers in Washington away from helping the GCC Sheikhs to fulfill their personal goal of removing regional rivals from office and life. Instead, the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton has joined with the rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in calling for the head of Bashar Assad. Muammar Gaddafi, who had surrendered his WMD and his intelligence secrets to the U.S. and to European countries, ought not to have been subjected to the military assault that took place for more than six months, before he was killed like a rodent near a drain. Such an ending suited the interests of the GCC rulers, but not at all NATO, which has today shown to the world that the surrender of WMD is no guarantee for safety. It is a small wonder that Syria, Iran, and North Korea are very unlikely to go the Gaddafi way. And in Egypt, after more than three decades upholding U.S. and Israeli security interests, Hosni Mubarak was abandoned to a Wahabbi mob that hates him for precisely this reason. If the military is now seeking to prosecute American citizens, it is because they know that doing by so is a surefire way of getting the appreciation of the Wahabbis, no matter how sweetly the latter croon to the U.S. and EU policymakers and journalists. Had Mubarak been given the sanctuary that Yemen’s former president has got for the moment, it would have been proof that NATO stands besides its friends rather than feeds them to the wolves once their use gets over.
Although this may not be welcome news to the lynch mob now gathering force inside the State Department, Bashar Assad is far more preferable than the motley crew of Wahabbists that are being backed with weapons and cash by the Sheikhs. The Wahabbi fanatics will cheerfully accept assistance from any quarter. However, once they succeed in ensconcing themselves, they will resist pressure the way the Taliban did after then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel and then Unocal consultant Zalmay Khalilzad helped it to power during the 1990s.
Today, the warlords roaming across Libya are obedient to no one barring themselves. The GCC Sheikhs have created a monster that will soon turn on them, the way the Taliban did on the U.S. after it came to office in 1996. Adopting a policy towards the region identical to the (flawed and self-defeating) wish list of the GCC sheikhs is a prescription for disaster. And this is where Bill Clinton comes in. The buzz amongst Wahabbis in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait is that they have made munificent donations to the foundations and programs headed or mentored by the former U.S. President, and that it is this money that is proving to be decisive in shaping U.S. policy towards the region, and making it travel in lockstep with the GCC monarchs. Certainly such a smear must be untrue. To prove that it is so, Bill Clinton needs to make transparent the funds and other moneys that his foundations and other institutions have got from sources in the Mideast, whether directly or through fronts based in other countries. Those who claim that the U.S. policy can be purchased, the way they can in some other parts of the world, need to be shown up as being purveyors of falsehood. Come clean, President Clinton. The world knows that Hillary and you are a team. Help her by showing that the charge that you are excessively reliant on funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are wrong.