America, the state of institutions

Ahmad al-Farraj

Published: Updated:

One of the questions which readers often ask me is: “If America is a state of institutions, as you write and say, then how come former President Barack Obama deviated from its policy toward the Middle East by being dragged toward Iran at the expense of America’s strong and historical alliance with Saudi Arabia? And how did the current President Donald Trump rectify the path?”

This is a logical question, which must be addressed in detail.

America has always been a state of institutions and Iran, despite the consecutive governments since 1979, has always been a historical rival. This has been the case during different Americans president’s terms, including Obama’s.

However, each president, or rather each administration, has its own vision when adopting policies. For example, the administrations of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump adopted a rough policy towards Iran while Obama’s administration adopted a soft one. This is expected from a leftist democratic president.

America is a state of institutions but each president has his own approach when dealing with different matters – an approach that does not oppose the general institutional path

Dr. Ahmad al-Faraj

This is in addition to the fact that Obama was a cultured president, and a cultured politician relies on theories and ignores reality. Therefore, Obama thought he could contain Iran through the nuclear agreement. What encouraged him to do so is his concern to leave a historical legacy behind.

Getting the Iranian nuclear deal approved was his only hope after he adopted a soft stance toward the Assad regime and after the failure of the Arab revolutions’ project which his administration supported.

Policy on Iran

America’s policies towards Iran are one. Iran is not a friendly state but the difference lies in how this truth is being dealt with, whether through tough figures, like George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, or through soft ones, like Obama.

During the nuclear agreement negotiations as well as after them, Obama confirmed that all options towards Iran are on the table. He never said Iran was a friendly country or that it can be so in the future. This is what we mean when we say that America is a state of institutions. One can refute our claims and say it is not a state of institutions if Obama had normalized relations and, for instance, exchanged envoys with Iran.

This is how we can understand America’s current strong ties with Saudi Arabia during Trump’s era. It’s an institutional decision and it is not – and it cannot be – a personal decision made by Trump as the kingdom’s rivals, such as Islamophobics and nationalists, try to promote. The kingdom is significant and it is a cornerstone in terms of US policies toward the Middle East.

Also read: Arab League to meet on Iran at Saudi request

Different views between Trump and some of his administration members regarding some Saudi policies are normal. For example, there were prominent Democrat politicians who opposed Obama’s soft policies toward Iran but the nuclear agreement was finalized anyway.

The bottom line is that America is a state of institutions but each president has his own approach when dealing with different matters – an approach that does not oppose the general institutional path.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Dr Ahmad al-Farraj is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah daily. He holds a Masters degree in literature from the University of Indiana and a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Michigan. He was the Dean of the Arabic Language Institute in King Saud University and a member of the university’s council. He tweets under @amhfarraj.

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