- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2013

President Obama is losing respect in Saudi Arabia and risks U.S. influence in the entire Middle East, where Russia is posed to pounce, the head of an independent Saudi-based think tank warned Thursday.

Abdulaziz Sager, director of the Gulf Research Center, argued that the visit to Saudi Arabia this week by Secretary of State John F. Kerry did nothing to diminish Saudi anger over a range of Obama policies in the region.

Mr. Sager noted that Mr. Obama’s popularity in the Middle East has sunk as low as President George W. Bush’s approval rating after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In an article in the Arab News, Mr. Sager called Mr. Obama a “paper tiger president” for threatening to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for deploying chemical weapons against his opponents and then allowing Russia to broker a deal to get Mr. Assad to allow the destruction of his stockpiles of poison gas.

Mr. Sager said Mr. Obama failed a “crucial test” of his “resolve and overall U.S. credibility” after he failed to retaliate against Mr. Assad’s regime for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in rebel-controlled areas around the Syrian capital, Damascus.

“Instead of taking a decisive stand that underlined the seriousness of the crime and making it clear that the actions by the Syrian regime would not be tolerated, the Obama administration wavered and quickly backed out on its considerations of a military response,” Mr. Sager wrote.

Mr. Obama had warned Mr. Assad that he would cross a “red line” if he used chemical weapons in Syria’s 2 1/2-year-old civil war. But Mr. Obama damaged his relations with Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Syrian regime, with his hesitation to act quickly and his later decision to allow Russia to take the diplomatic lead.

“What is at stake here is not only the future of the Syrian regime and the potential devastating consequences a continued Syrian civil war has for the Middle East as a whole, but also the role of the U.S. in a future Mideast,” Mr. Sager warned.

“With its decision to erase the red lines that it itself had announced, the U.S. has affected its own moral standings and left huge questions marks about its ability and willingness to uphold international order and enforce respect for international law.”

Mr. Sager added that Saudi King Abdullah and his government remain upset with Mr. Obama for “bending too far and too fast” to repair relations with Iran, a Saudi rival for influence in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation, is the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, while the regime in Iran is trying to spread the Shiite sect of the religion.

King Abdullah also is displeased with Mr. Obama’s failure to press Israel harder to make concessions to the Palestinians and his support for the Shiite-led Iraqi government, Mr. Sager said.


A former U.S. ambassador to Japan this week warned that Chinese aggression in the region is like a “tinderbox” that could erupt in flames and endanger Washington’s strongest ally in Asia.

John Thomas Schieffer, who served in Tokyo from 2005 to 2009, said at a seminar in Tokyo that the U.S. shares Japan’s anxiety over China’s belligerence in the East and South China seas and its claim on islands recognized as Japanese territory.

He compared the dispute over Japan’s Senkaku islands to “tinderboxes that can be lit quickly,” Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

Ichiro Fukisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., said he shares Mr. Schieffer’s concerns but added that the U.S.-Japanese defense treaty is the “biggest deterrence” to Chinese military adventurism.

Last month, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel traveled to Japan to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to discuss strengthening the 1952 defense pact.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at [email protected] or @EmbassyRow.

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