Following JASTA, what do we want from the United States?
What we really need, is to work on establishing a smart and effective diplomacy that can communicate with the different international actors
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), passed by the US Congress by a majority, has raised questions over the future of the US-Saudi relations after decades of strong partnership between the two countries. This partnership has led to Riyadh becoming one of the most important capitals for Washington DC, not only because of its economic weight due to oil but also due to the important role played by Saudi Arabia in the region’s stability and in countering terrorist organizations.
The present American administration has ruled for almost eight years. Obama has his own vision for the Middle East region and for American foreign affairs. The main outline of this vision is withdrawing from regional conflicts and refraining from engaging the US in new wars.
Obama made this policy clear in the beginning of his presidential campaign but a lot of Arab political analysts did not take it seriously and considered it as just election promises. However, Obama started implementing his vision, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan and tried to reduce the US military losses. He applied alternative policies such as creating local military organizations manned by people of these countries or by using drones to target al-Qaeda and Taliban.
I do not aim to evaluate Obama’s policy in a positive or negative manner in this article. Obama has followed this policy even after the so-called Arab Springs that emerged in 2011. It was Obama’s policy that compelled him not to interfere in the on-going war in Syria and made him offer limited support to the Syrian armed opposition, thus only targeting ISIS targets.
The confusion that has spread within the Arab public and the political elites is a result of excessive focus on Obama’s personality without trying to understand his vision in order to deal with it.Hassan Al Mustafa
Obama’s policy in the Middle East was considered by its opponents as a regression and a weakening of Washington’s power in this vital region. Despite all this, Obama ignored criticism and continued to implement his vision. Arab writers became very critical of President Obama to the extent of becoming sarcastic and sometimes even using racist expressions.
The confusion that has spread within the Arab public and the political elites is a result of excessive focus on Obama’s personality without trying to understand his vision in order to deal with it.
During the eight years of Obama administration, we did not make any effort as Arabs to engage in a serious dialogue with the American administration. We also failed to convince them of our point of view. We did not even work on building a network of efficient relations with American politicians, businessmen and media leaders knowing that this network is essential to any country that wants its voice to be heard in Washington DC.
It is important to remember that Obama, whom we dubbed as weak, vetoed the JASTA. He maintained that it will harm the US interests and consequently refused to sign it. In other words, he stood by Saudi Arabia in the face of this law even when members of the Democratic Party voted in its favor.
American politicians, with President Obama being one of them, are mandated to work for the interests of the United States and not for other countries even if they happen to be strategic allies such as Israel. That’s why, we must not expect from them to give preference to Arab or Saudi interests over their own interests.
Continuing to express our outrage against Washington is neither relevant to politics nor to diplomacy. Instead it results from our weakness and inability to find solutions as well as a narrow political vision.
What we really need, is to work on establishing a smart and effective diplomacy that can communicate with the different international actors; a diplomacy that does not have a short-sighted vision. Such an approach would present strong elements on which it can rely away from the whims of a few who might wish that Riyadh will interrupt its relations with Washington or enter into a cold war.
The first question that we should answer is the following: what do we want from the United States and what kind of relation we should aim for in the future between the two countries?
This article was first published on Al Riyadh on September 23, 2016.
Hassan Al-Mustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in Middle East and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters.