The choice of Camp David as the site for the first ever summit meeting between President Obama and the Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was meant to send a symbolic signal to the Arab leaders present – that the American president wants to spend some quality time with them at that bucolic retreat, which he has only used once before for a summit meeting such as this, for the 38th G8 summit in May 2012. But it’s not symbolism that the GCC leaders are concerned with, rather it’s the nightmarish reality of the unraveling of a century-old political order and the fraying of a large swath of Arab lands around them, as well as an ascendant (and in most of their minds belligerent) Iran, trying to ensure its regional hegemony by projecting its power, sometimes directly but mostly by proxy, to build an alternative, if still vague, political scaffolding on the rubble of the dying order.
The purpose of the conclave is to reassure the Gulf allies that the United States will remain committed to the security of the region. Any nuclear deal with Iran will not be at the expense of the safety of the Arab nations present, and the U.S. remains determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The Gulf Arabs are seeking a new, more explicit, and institutionalized ‘security architecture’ in the region, to be erected by the U.S., and which helps guard against Iran – containing its regional ambitions, challenging its meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries, and protecting against violent Islamists like the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda. Because there is no overarching strategy underpinning this security architecture, it remains vague and is given various names; “security guarantees, given the behavior of Iran in the region, given the rise of the extremist threat,” as the UAE envoy to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, said recently, or, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris on Friday, “a series of new commitments that will create, between the United States and the GCC, a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives”.
Conflicting wishes and divergent visions
It is ironic that those Arab officials who are pushing for explicit and written security guarantees from President Obama – from a memorandum of understanding to a military doctrine – have low expectations of the Camp David summit achieving serious breakthroughs