Measuring the success of the Riyadh summit
The upcoming US-Gulf summit in Riyadh is important, but will anything significant come of it?
The US-Gulf summit that is taking place in Riyadh is important, but will anything significant come of it? In last year’s summit, the joint statement reiterated the US commitment to defending the Gulf states, the need for peaceful and political solutions to the region’s conflicts, the threat of terrorism and the imperative for cooperation to eradicate it, and most importantly Iran.
Then, Tehran was urged to stop interfering in other countries’ affairs, and seek ways to improve relations with its neighbors. A year later, US President Barack Obama described Gulf states as “free riders”, blamed them for creating sectarian conflicts, and called on them to share the region with Iran.
There is already deep disappointment - even resentment - with Obama’s regional policies, and the upcoming summit will likely increase this resentment. It is clear that he is only becoming harsher in his views of regional issues and the US role in them.
Putting feelings of mistrust and resentment aside, there is a real collision between the views of Washington and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Washington sees Iran’s involvement in the regional balance of power as healthy, while the GCC sees it as an existential threat. No summit will convince either side of the other’s view.
If the summit’s only outcome is a form of road map whereby each step that the United States walks away is only made after the GCC is ready to step in, it would be a successAbdullah Hamidaddin
There is also an asymmetry in the mutual need between the United States and the GCC. Securing oil flows from the Arabian Gulf region was once part of US national security. Now it is being downgraded to part of American interest in regional stability.
This at a time when threats against GCC states are increasing due to Iran’s return to the international scene. In essence, the United States needs the GCC less, while the Council needs the United States more.
This asymmetry is not absent from the minds of GCC leaders, hence their efforts to create coalitions and expand alliances. However, coalitions and alliances need time to mature and become effective.
If Washington must disengage then so be it, but if it wants to do so without creating power vacuums that lead to chaos, it should align its disengagement with the GCC’s coalition-building efforts. If the summit’s only outcome is a form of road map whereby each step that the United States walks away is only made after the GCC is ready to step in, it would be a success.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
This article is part of Al Arabiya English’s Special Coverage on Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia.