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The Salman doctrine and the Obama doctrine

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

In his interview with The Atlantic, US President Barack Obama criticized Gulf countries’ supposedly excessive dependence on Washington. However, he will visit Riyadh next month and meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. This shows that we may get angry and reproach one another, but we cannot do without each other.

The article’s author Jeffrey Goldberg indicated that the Obama doctrine is a “policy of non-interference,” and that “it is better to resolve matters via negotiations rather than via resorting to power.” Europe adopts a similar policy, and Obama’s successor will most probably do so.

However, he has exaggerated in implementing it. This was evident in Syria, where he backed down from the red line he had drawn for the regime after it attacked Ghouta with chemical weapons in Aug. 2013. Obama’s inaction angered his allies, which were ready to intervene in Syria and end the crisis before it worsened. He has since been described as a passive president.

However, it is important to deal with this doctrine as a general, ongoing US and Western policy. The “imperialist” mood has changed due to a change in Western voters’ mood, which is very different from that of the generation that came after World War II, which is always willing to engage in military adventures. For example, the West is hesitant to intervene decisively against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

However, in 1986 then-US President Ronald Reagan quickly intervened against then-Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and shelled his regime’s headquarters in Tripoli without any international resolutions, because Reagan held him responsible for the deaths of two American soldiers in the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin.

Saudi leadership

The doctrine of Saudi King Salman, which does not contradict that of Obama, provides initiative and leadership. This time last year, the Salman doctrine crystallized when the first Saudi jet took off to shell positions of the Houthis and of the forces of ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after they staged a coup against the legitimate government.

Riyadh has carried out its duties in Yemen and Syria, and is willing to bear more responsibilities by supporting a peaceful political transition there. The only thing required from Washington is to support its strong regional ally.

Jamal Khashoggi

Back then, I described the doctrine as representative of regional powers’ independence in formulating and leading initiatives while indirectly including Washington. “Powerful regional countries such as Saudi Arabia can lead and change history, or at least change its history,” I wrote. “When the United States sees decisiveness, it will respond and follow the regional leader as long as he is independent, decisive and persistent, and enjoys popular support and legitimacy.”

I expected Operation Decisive Storm’s success in Yemen to lead to the Salman doctrine being adopted in other places. This is happening in Syria with Riyadh’s expressed willingness to send ground troops there.

US role

The Salman doctrine cancels Obama’s complaint that Gulf countries want a “free ride.” The doctrine shows that they are willing to lead and take initiatives, while the US role as a superpower is to be an honest ally that has their backs in the UN Security Council, and provides logistical and intelligence support when needed.

Riyadh did not ask Obama to invade Syria, like his predecessor George W Bush did in Iraq. If the decision was in Saudi Arabia’s hands back then, it would have chosen that Bush not invade. All that Gulf countries want is for Obama to act decisively against Iranian expansion in the region, and help them end chaos and terrorism.

The Syrian conflict is going through a defining moment. A few days ago, a round of talks in Geneva ended with a document stipulating an implementation mechanism for transitional governance.

The only thing that will deter the regime from rejecting this is direct US intervention that resembles that of former President Bill Clinton in the Balkans, when he intervened in Bosnia by shelling the Serbs - forcing them to sign the Dayton Agreement in 1995 - and when he shelled them again during the 1999 Kosovo war.

This is what Riyadh wants, and what the Syrian regime needs to accept the international community’s decisions. This will not happen if Obama continues his doctrine of non-interference. The Salman doctrine provides an exit for Obama. Riyadh does not want a “free ride” from Washington. It has carried out its duties in Yemen and Syria, and is willing to bear more responsibilities by supporting a peaceful political transition there.

The only thing required from Washington is to support its strong regional ally, which is taking the initiative regarding causes on which they agree. Riyadh does not support a dictator or sectarian regime in Syria and Yemen, and does not impose an agenda on the Syrians and Yemenis, unlike Iran, which enjoys Obama’s admiration.

This article first appeared in Al Hayat on Mar. 26, 2016.
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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

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