- - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama is scheduled to attend a summit with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) on April 21 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The GCC is a Sunni organization comprised of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, and is home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. With the continuing turmoil in the Middle East, this summit normally would be seen as a unique opportunity for a U.S. president to show extraordinary leadership by proposing an enlightened plan for restoring stability to this critical region. However, a dark cloud hangs over this summit.

Dominating the concerns of the leaders of the GCC is President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). One of the benefits promoted by the Obama administration is that this so-called historic deal would bring Iran into the “community of nations” and lead to improved relations with not only the United States but its neighbors as well. With Iran’s continued belligerent attitude and actions — e.g. testing of ballistic missiles; the humiliation of the seizure of two U.S. Navy riverine craft on January 12; and firing missiles in the vicinity of the carrier USS Harry S. Truman — makes a mockery of the president’s propaganda on behalf of the deal.

Underscoring the concern of the GCC leaders is an unprecedented op-ed in the April 5 Wall Street Journal by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, in which he stated: “Sadly, behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long known — hostile, expansionist, violent — is alive and well, and as dangerous as ever. Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region must stop. Until it does, our hope for a new Iran should not cloud the reality that the old Iran is very much still with us — as dangerous and as disruptive as ever.”

The ambassador’s op-ed says it all. Compounding the problem is Jeffrey Goldberg’s March Atlantic magazine article, “The Obama Doctrine,” which displays President Obama’s arrogance and condescending attitude in describing a number of our friends and allies. Specifically, when discussing Saudi Arabia, Mr. Goldberg quotes Mr. Obama as suggesting that they “need to find a way to share the neighborhood.” Such a remark clearly displays Mr. Obama’s tilt to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, for regional hegemony. He then went on to call the Saudis, as well as our European allies, “free riders.” This phrase particularly irked the Saudi leadership, as evidenced by the open letter by Prince Turki al-Faisal to the president, published in the Arab News newspaper, outlining the unmistakable terms of their annoyance.

The negative atmosphere for the summit created by Mr. Obama’s recent remarks and the nuclear deal with Iran — which is, in fact, not an actual deal since it was never signed — can be salvaged by the president with some deft handling of the region’s geopolitics. The frayed relationship with our 80-year ally must be restored, starting with the recognition of the Saudi’s leadership role in both the Arab and Islamic world. Our principal objectives for the region fortunately coincide with the GCC objectives. They are:

• Preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon capability

• Eliminating the Iranian theocracy’s totalitarian control of Iran

• Destroying the Islamic State (ISIS)

• Restoring stability to the region

Certainly, U.S. and GCC agreement on these objectives provide the basis for rebuilding a positive relationship.

Mr. Obama should recognize the Saudi’s leadership in forming the new 34-country Islamic Military Alliance, which would be a step in the right direction. The purpose of this alliance is to fight all Islamic jihadists, including the Islamic State, al Qaeda and al-Shabab. The recently completed 20-country “North Thunder” exercise by the Saudi-led Military Alliance should receive special recognition as a positive prelude to engage the terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq. It has long been recognized that “Arab boots on the ground” is one of the key elements for defeating ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organizations. The Saudis have previously expressed their willingness to put Arab ground forces in Syria in support of “moderate” Syrian forces fighting Bashar Assad.

However, such an intervention could be a double-edged sword, as it could bring Saudi Arabia and Iranian forces into direct conflict. Nonetheless, we should consider establishing a forward operation base (FOB) at Irbil in Kurdistan, which could provide more air power for our current effort. It would also be a factor in supporting any Saudi-led ground operation. In any event, it will be seen as a positive factor in our commitment to restoring stability in the region.

Further, the Saudi-led “North Thunder” exercise could be used as motivation in the current Syria negotiations led by the United States and Russia. In any event, both Syria and Iraq are fractured states and some form of federalization will have to evolve. This initiative by Saudi Arabia should be embraced by Mr. Obama as a key element in achieving both U.S. and GCC objectives.

As part of rebuilding the relationship with Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama could propose the establishment of a U.S.-GCC “Quarantine” operation to supplement current efforts to further prevent Iran from shipping arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Separately, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter floated a trial balloon that the president may ask the GCC to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction. With Iraq an Iranian puppet state — this is a non-starter.

Mr. Obama has a unique opportunity to restore U.S. credibility and further U.S. regional objectives. Unfortunately, it is less than clear that he will seize the moment.

James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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