I meticulously contemplated an interactive map of the world that was presented to us by a Japanese researcher. Red and blue lights were blinking on the map, designating the roaming of U.S. navy ships and vessels all over the world, during the past year. The map analysis indicates that these ships and vessels spend few days in certain areas and then disappear, but they are never absent for a whole year from the Arabian Gulf, unlike any other region in the world.
The Japanese researcher explains it as being due to the full commitment of the United States to protect the oil supply lines of the global economy. Therefore, our strategic ally is committed to our security and is actually present through 15 military bases and 7 naval bases in our Gulf and around it, endorsed by fleets that are almost always present in our seas. There is no need then to worry about the new window of dialogue between our ally and our rival Iran, a window that we fear to see turning into peace; talks and then a meeting and then an alliance.
Not exactly. Let us listen again to the Japanese researcher that I met last week during a closed meeting about the security of the Gulf and the role of Japan (if there is any). He said: “In Japan, we rely by 90 percent on Gulf oil, while the United States relies on it by 18 percent, a percentage that is expected to decline in the coming years, but the U.S. is here for us and for China, Korea, India and the world economy.”
Protecting our security?
Since the U.S. does not strive to get involved in chronic or sectarian conflicts such as the war in Syria, according to Obama, it is ready to negotiate with Iran if the latter made real concessions regarding its nuclear program and its threats against Israel, and left “chronic sectarian conflicts” for us to solve.Jamal Khashoggi
This means that the U.S. presence in the region is not related to “our security” such as the Iranian interference in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Perhaps the blunt interpretation of the Japanese researcher explains why the U.S. changed its policy after that short call between the American and Iranian presidents, like for instance the U.S. faint-hearted stance regarding Syria, which was in line with the Russian position. They limited their stances to the chemical weapons’ disarmament of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which was said to upset Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who instantly left New York without delivering the kingdom’s speech at the annual U.N. session in September.
This month will always be remembered in Arab modern history as a historic turning point, during which the Arab region witnessed historic moments, as important as Sykes-Picot, the Balfour Declaration, the Yalta Conference, the “U.S.S. Quincy meeting” between King Abdulaziz and President Roosevelt, and the American landings in Beirut in 1958, up until the most recent list of events that have formed the new Middle East. Suddenly in September 2013, the British Parliament rejected the military intervention in the Middle East for the first time, followed by the reconsideration by the U.S. President of his decision to intervene in Syria by transferring his call to the Congress for a vote. He then asked the congress to disregard the vote, after he had reached an agreement with the Russians, which turned the wheel of events in Syria from saving the people to disarming of the regime’s chemical weapons that will take a full year, and abandoning the idea of any military intervention in order to search for a political solution.
On the map of the Japanese researcher, the analysis of the U.S. ships and vessels’ positions around the world shows that the United States cannot afford to enter two wars at the same time. Moreover, the number of U.S. Navy ships today is way less than its presence during World War II. So it is not just a matter of dissimilarity between a Republican president and another Democrat, or a president driven by his instinct and another who profoundly think about the consequences of every action and prefer to negotiate about the war. The U.S. policies have drastically changed. What caught my attention was President Obama’s indication that the Middle East is constantly witnessing “sectarian conflicts”; was he saying to his people that it is better to stay away from the problems of this old world, who refuses to get out of the past?
This does not mean that the United States has become a dove of peace, as it is still militarily active but according to its own priorities. Over the past year, it succeeded in cooperating with several countries’ navy forces, including India, Iran and Oman and helped them reduce piracy from 40 operations per year to only 3; its war on piracy is not linked to moral values but it is driven by business interests. The U.S. has recently taken a decision to freeze most aids and grants to Egypt (while waiting for the latter to get back on democratic path and restore civilian rule), but has excluded what would help in the war on terrorism and the military campaign in Sinai, indicating that the “war on terrorism” is a priority that is not even affected by military coups. This is what the U.S. will maintain in its ties with the rest of the countries in the region.
According to this logic, it is possible for the states to reach a consensus with Iran; what was the cause of the conflict between the 2 countries anyway? There was a historic disagreement, which was needed by the Iranian revolution in the past; Iran needed an enemy so Khomeini brought up the “Great Satan” and promoted it as a nightmare threatening the revolution, in order to create hatred in the hearts of his followers and unite them against an enemy. This did not prevent both countries from cooperating during the war on Iraq or the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Iran fully cooperated with the United States, and thus the secrets of that era began to get clearer. The real disagreement that has brought harsh sanctions on Iran was its nuclear program and its threats against Israel.
Since the U.S. does not strive to get involved in chronic or sectarian conflicts such as the war in Syria, according to Obama, it is ready to negotiate with Iran if the latter made real concessions regarding its nuclear program and its threats against Israel, and left “chronic sectarian conflicts” for us to solve. I believe it is time for it because Iran will only need its nuclear arsenal to protect itself from an Israeli or American attack. Iran must have understood the American “withdrawal” moments as we did, which would encourage it to be more flexibility. Iran needs to escape the sanctions, which are now threatening its stability because the Iranian people want a better life, especially that Iran has now highly qualified economy and industry sectors, but the narrow-mindedness is postponing its development and competitiveness. Iran has surveyed the changes that took place in Turkey during the last decade, and it believes that it is ready for such changes, but it requires a real openness to the world around it, particularly with the United States.
We are witnessing historical moments and the beginning of enormous change, that will not necessarily be good or bad, but it will need a better strategy and readiness, and will definitely require prioritizing the future – not the past.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Oct. 12, 2013.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi