“I think there are a lot of broader concerns about the US. They aren’t triggered simply by Syria. The reaction the US had from the start to events in Egypt created a great deal of concern among the Gulf and the Arab states,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military affairs specialist at the Center for International Studies.
Kings and princes throughout the Persian Gulf were deeply unsettled when Washington turned its back on Egypt’s former president and US ally Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 uprising in the largest Arab country. Now, Arab allies in the Gulf voice dismay over the rapid policy redirection from Obama over Syria, where rebel factions have critical money and weapons channels from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states. It has stirred a rare public dispute with Washington, whose differences with Gulf allies are often worked out behind closed doors.
Last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned that the renewed emphasis on diplomacy with al-Assad would allow the Syrian president to “impose more killing.”
After saying al-Assad must be removed from power and then threatening military strikes over the regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack, the US is now working with Russia and the UN to collect and destroy Damascus’ chemical weapons stockpile. That assures al-Assad will remain in power for now and perhaps the long term.
Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, said the US handling of the Syrian crisis and its decision not to attack after declaring red lines on chemical weapons has hurt Washington’s credibility.
“I think in the eyes of the Syrians and the Iranians, and the rivals of the US, it was a signal of weakness, and credibility was deteriorated,” he said.
The Syrian rebels, who were promised US arms, say they feel deserted by the Americans, adding that they have lost faith and respect for Obama.
DEALING WITH IRAN
The White House contends that its threat of a military strike against al-Assad was what caused the regime to change course and agree to plan reached by Moscow and Washington to hand its chemical weapons over to international inspectors for destruction. That is a far better outcome than resorting to military action, Obama administration officials insist.
Gulf rulers also have grown suddenly uneasy over the US outreach to their regional rival Iran.
Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said Gulf states “must be in the picture” on any attempts by the US and Iran to open sustained dialogue or reach settlement over Tehran’s nuclear program.
He was quoted Tuesday by the London-based al-Hayat newspaper as saying US Secretary of State John Kerry has promised to consult with his Gulf “friends” on any significant policy shifts over Iran — a message that suggested Gulf states are worried about being left on the sidelines in potentially history-shaping developments in their region.
In response to the new US opening to Iran to deal with its suspected nuclear weapons program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly that his country remained ready to act alone to prevent Tehran from building a bomb.
He indicated a willingness to allow some time for further diplomacy, but not much. And he excoriated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”