Over the past decade, several US policy decisions made by Republican and Democrat administrations have caused a decline in America’s reputation in the Gulf. The common theme among these decisions was abandonment. As the political climate in the Middle East continues to shift, China and Russia are taking advantage of the increasing mistrust between the Gulf countries and the United States to create a new world order in which the US is no longer the sole hegemonic power.
China and Russia are trying to exploit the weakened trust between Gulf countries and the US to demonstrate that they can help reduce regional tensions and resolve outstanding political issues that the US has failed to achieve. Additionally, China and Russia claim they can help the Gulf states focus more on their internal economic prosperity. However, both countries are using the Arab theater to push their dangerous adventure against the US, which may have disastrous consequences for the region.
The transition of the Gulf countries towards this new system began under Obama’s leadership and has continued under the Biden administration.
With his policy of “zero problems” in the Middle East, Obama was prepared to sacrifice America’s strategic alliance with Gulf states to defend his nuclear deal with Iran. And his concept of “leading from behind” suggested that Washington was not involved in issue-solving, such as crises in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Libya. During Obama’s presidency, Gulf states realized that their future ties with Washington might not be as certain as they thought.
Donald Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign on Iran without a serious political vision for the region further insulted the Gulf states. The 45th president’s policies were based solely on economic prospects and ignored the deep historical and political ties between the Gulf states and America.
And now, under Biden, who also served as Obama’s vice president, his former boss’s policies have been revived. But, the Biden administration has failed to note the Gulf states’ evolution over the last decade. Both Trump and Biden did not do much to protect GCC countries from missiles launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen or the Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil plants, which was a turning point in the relations.
Gulf states have since enhanced their ties with Beijing and Moscow. The latter two are leading efforts to form a new world order by selling their points to the GCC as capable of bringing stability to the region, where American and Western powers have failed.
The recent Saudi-Iranian agreement, sponsored by China and aided by Russia, is another indication of the beginning of this new political system.
The Arab rapprochement with the Assad regime, which recently included Saudi Arabia, reflects the reality of regional priorities and is another indicator of how China and Russia are using the mistrust between GCC and Washington to empower their agenda in the Middle East.
As for the Syrian crisis, the United States and Western countries must realize that their inability to come up with ideas for a solution does not mean that others will wait for one. Nevertheless, they cannot simply let Russia and China use the Arab League to promote their way for a solution.
Recently, American ideas put forward by Washington-based think tanks and US public figures for Syria are a repetition of general ideas that do not reflect an understanding of the new reality in the region.
It is the US and the European Union that needs to encourage the Arab League to come up with a roadmap for the Syrian crisis, one which helps achieves stability in the region and the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom while preserving the territorial integrity of Syria.
The US, EU, and UK should support these efforts and help the Arab countries while they negotiate with China, Russia, and Iran. The Syrian people and Arab countries should determine a political solution, and this should be backed by Western governments, not by implementing any Russian, Iranian, or Chinese ideas.
While Arab countries are negotiating in good faith, they are unlikely to have enough leverage to garner concessions from the Assad regime or his Iranian backers. With US and European support, including pledges to ease sanctions if the Assad regime meets certain conditions, the Arab countries will have a much stronger hand at the negotiating table.
Bassam Barabandi is a former Syrian diplomat. He left the Syrian Embassy in Washington in 2013.
This article was first published on Al-Arabiya Website. Republished by The Syrian Observer with the approval of the author.