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Seizing opportunity: Stark contrast in approach between Obama and Trump

Pierre Ghanem

Published: Updated:

It’s quite important and telling to compare these two statements from the White House: one issued during Barack Obama’s term and another issued during Donald Trump’s term.

A statement issued on September 4, 2015, that is 18 months ago, said: “His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman briefed the President on the Kingdom’s views regarding the strategic partnership. The President and King Salman directed officials in their respective governments to explore appropriate ways to move forward in the coming months.”

The other statement issued on March 15, 2017, said: “President Trump provided his support for developing a new United States-Saudi program, undertaken by joint US-Saudi working groups, and its unique initiatives in energy, industry, infrastructure, and technology worth potentially more than $200 billion in direct and indirect investments within the next four years. The President also provided his support for United States investments in Saudi Arabia and the facilitation of bilateral trade, which will result in sizable opportunities for both countries.”

I chose these two parts because the difference between them is clear. The first statement reveals how an American president is referring an opportunity to committees to discuss it while the second statement shows how another president sees an opportunity in favor of US interests and wants to strengthen relations with friendly countries.

There’s another piece of news that further clarifies this comparison.

When King Salman bin Abdulaziz visited the US in 2015 and before he met with then-President Obama, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with then-US Secretary of State John Kerry and offered a new vision for American-Saudi relations that’s based on more than security and energy and includes opening the doors of investment in Saudi Arabia for American capital.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman surprised Kerry with the magnitude of changes which Saudi Arabia is proposing regarding economy, controlling expenditure and developing relations with America on the cultural level.

Afterwards, Kerry went to the White House and informed the National Security Council and Obama of the ambitious Saudi project. Then Obama met with King Salman and the result was directing government officials “to explore appropriate ways to move forward in the coming months.”

Benefit to both countries

However, the White House statement issued after Trump met with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 14, 2017 talked about $200 billion and said that the deputy crown prince addressed Vision 2030 during his meeting with Trump.

It added that “they agreed to put in place specific bilateral programs to help both countries benefit from new opportunities created by the Kingdom’s implementation of those new economic plans.”

I don’t want to criticize former president Obama or promote the current president Trump but I would like to highlight how Arab countries suffered during Obama’s terms and how this is different with Trump.

Obama only looked at America’s strategic interests which according to the statements of the former administration were “flow of energy, Israel’s security, maintaining strategic partners and combating terrorism.”

Pierre Ghanem


Obama only looked at America’s strategic interests which according to the statements of the former administration were “flow of energy, Israel’s security, maintaining strategic partners and combating terrorism.”

Obama maintained these strategic interests but he did not see the available opportunities and the extended hand his friends offered.

Silence over Iran’s interference

He also did not estimate the extent of the threat because of his silence over Iranian interference in Arab countries’ affairs.
The difference is that Trump sees the available opportunities and the extended hand.

The recent White House statement said: “The President and the Deputy Crown Prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilizing regional activities.”

And last but not least, we must note that the former president during the surge of “American energy production,” announced “shifting again towards the Far East.” This means giving priority to American interests with China and the Pacific Ocean countries.

Trump, on the other hand, said he will hold China accountable for manipulating trade agreements and that he supports strong, comprehensive and sustainable relations with Saudi Arabia based on mutual interests and commitment to stability and prosperity of the Middle East.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Pierre Ghanem is an Al Arabiya correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.