Consequences of America ceding space in the Middle East discussed

Top CEO session, moderated by Al Arabiya English’s Editor-in-Chief, highlightes Iran’s role in destabilizing the region

Ehtesham Shahid
Ehtesham Shahid
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Leading commentators, ex-diplomats and businessmen got together in Dubai on Tuesday to discuss the state of American engagement, or the lack of it, in the Middle East and its larger ramifications for the geopolitics of the region. Despite the differences of opinion over ways to deal with the rapidly changing circumstances in a challenging economic environment, agreement emerged over the need to develop consensus on all issues.

The session – Adapting to the End of the American Umbrella – was part of the Top CEO award and was moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English.

Kicking off the discussion, Ali Z. Khedery, CEO of Dragoman Ventures, traced the current US policy in the region back to September 11 attacks in the United States. “There was a war of necessity in Afghanistan against the Taliban and a war of choice against Saddam in Iraq. What happened as a consequence of the US toppling of the regime in Iraq was a shift in the balance of power,” said Khederi.

According to him, it was due to these wars that a conflict fatigue developed in America and the country elected Obama to bring troops back home. However, Khederi said, that the withdrawal was too precipitous. It was a “fatally flawed strategic decision”, which lead to the spread of sectarianism and a series of failed states followed. Khederi said that the message from Obama administration is that the Middle East and its people should govern themselves. “The region is very combustible at the moment,” he said.

Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that there is a certain reticence that Obama shares with millions of Americans of not to get engaged in Middle East conflicts. “I don’t see this approach carrying through in the next administration,” he said adding that a US policy on Syria is indeed coming and that no pivot to Asia is taking place. “This is engagement fatigue and not really withdrawal,” Ibish added.

On the critical question of whether the next president will revisit the Iran nuclear deal, Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, The Jamestown Foundation, said that most people don’t disagree with the Iran nuclear deal. “Even GCC leaders have publicly welcomed it even though they are upset about the manner in which it was done. There was no alternative and it actually took shape during the Bush presidency who was hawkish,” he said.

However, Vatanka agreed that the deal hasn’t moderated Iran’s behavior. “There is a fight in Tehran about the direction of foreign policy. Rowhani is saying we have to change our ways otherwise the deal will bring nothing. The other side says we must fight the fight,” he said. Vatanka said if Clinton comes to power, she wouldn’t undo the Iranian nuclear deal although it will all depend on the Iranian behavior going forward.

Concluding the discussion, Faisal J. Abbas said that, despite differences over polices, the region still views America as an ally. (Al Arabiya)
Concluding the discussion, Faisal J. Abbas said that, despite differences over polices, the region still views America as an ally. (Al Arabiya)

Khalid Abdulla Janahi, Chairman, Naseej Co. & Solidarity Group Holding, said we have been living in a myth in this part of the world. Presidents come and go and do whatever their national interests dictate. But for 70 years, we have been talking about security of regimes, not security for developing this part of the world,” he said adding that it is this element that has brought us into this position.

“Why should we let US talk to Iranians while we can? We should talk to them and shouldn’t leave it to others to deal with it,” said Janahi. He said that the region has spent substantial amount of money in securing regimes whereas that money should have been spent on development. “We have not allowed real equal opportunities and sustainable development in this part of the world,” he said.

Concluding the discussion, Faisal J. Abbas said that, despite differences over polices, the region still views America as an ally. “We are having this discussion to understand how we can become partners. Differences do not last forever and they can be resolved. The US has been very cooperative in the war in Yemen. American jets are leading the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. At the end of the day, we all want peace,” he said.

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