Does America matter to the Arab world?

Our 85-year old partnership with the “Leader of the Free World” is not about to end anytime soon

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

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When asked about the state of our relations with the United States of America, I would assure my questioner that it is solid. Then I would qualify, “We have had better days!”

Our 85-year old partnership with the “Leader of the Free World” is not about to end anytime soon. The bases are too vital and concrete to be affected by political differences. Our partnership has started with oil business, but flew to higher skies since then.

Sheikh Abdullah Balkhair, who worked with King Abdulaziz as a media secretary and interpreter, related to me that once he attended an event hosted by US officials. He conveyed to them how the king viewed our relations with America and Britain, “There are friends and partners. Britain is a friend and America is an ally. When it comes to national interests, partners come ahead of friends,” the king said.

Since the first meeting between the founder of Saudi Arabia and US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1945, kings and presidents were building bridges between the two peoples and nations.

However, there comes a time in any relationship when interests diverge, and each partner goes her own way. US blind support of Israel has always been a dividing issue. So was the US invasion of Iraq (2003) and its policies there and toward the Syrian crisis.

Hopefully, the new administration, whether under Tramp or Clinton, would be more aware and a better learner from historic lessons. The interests of great nations are too important to gamble with

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Disagreement over Iran

Today, we could add Iran right at the top of our disagreements. Somehow, America decided to repeat its historic misstep. Recently disclosed records showed that the Carter’s administration and Britain were secretly communicating with exiled Khomeini and in support of his revolution. After paving the way for his victorious return to Tehran in 1979 from Paris, rewards for betraying their closest friend in the region, the Shah, had not materialized.

Within months, Iran was screaming “Death to America,” confiscating US interests and occupying its embassy for 444 days. President Obama came up with the same pacifist massage President Carter sugarcoated his dirty politics with. He decided to bet on Iran against America’s best friends, hoping for a more reliable, pragmatic partner, who would not hesitate to serve US, Britain and Israel’s interests.

Shiite terrorists, as John Kerry put it to Syrian opposition in a recent meeting, are not attacking us, but Sunnis are. Both president and secretary of state seem to forget how it was like during the 1980s in Iran and Lebanon, and why America had to withdraw from Beirut and pay hefty and embarrassing ransoms (like the scandalous Iran Contra) to free hostages in both countries.

Hopefully, the new administration, whether under Tramp or Clinton, would be more aware and a better learner from historic lessons. The interests of great nations are too important to gamble with. If you have to choose between solid old allies and newly-found partners with criminal records, you should go for the most reliable and decent choice.

Not to mention, that betraying friends would force them to switch camps. Old and new partners would learn not to trust you. No matter how strong or big you think you are, time will come when you need what only true friendship provides. Realpolitik and interest-based relationships are not good enough to build lasting solid alliances.

Our best option is to continue our political, military and economic diversification. The US would always be a friend and a partner. You cannot ignore “the” superpower of the world. Our relationship is too intertwined and deeply rooted to be weakened by current disagreements. Our interests on most fronts are mutual.

However, when you have a partner who thinks of your relationship as a business deal, and is willing to sell your bond for the highest bidder, you need options.

More solid partners and “safer,” higher yielding markets can be found if we keep looking. In Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Russia we may find plenty of opportunities. But let’s start with our Arab and Muslim nations. We should form a 1.5 billion-customer common market. Our Islamic military alliance against terrorism could be upgraded to a NATO-like defense pact. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation should activate all its agencies and projects. We urgently need to set up the Islamic Court of Justice and put other cultural, media and economic institutions under its umbrella.

The Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab League must do better — and faster. The Arab Military Alliance can be made permanent. Allies like Morocco, Jordan and “new” Yemen, should join the GCC as full or partial members in a GCC+ format.
Once we had developed our own capabilities and strengthened our “reliable” alliances, we could say to those offering their mercenary service: Thanks, but your presence is no longer needed! If you are not here to protect your interests, you may as well leave — we could take care of our own!

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Nov. 08, 2016.
(Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. This article was published in the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 1, 2013. The writer can be reached at: Kbatarfi@gmail.com and followed on Twitter: @Kbatarfi)

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