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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Enough trusting Others to keep us secure!

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock

On Saturday 31st March, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told the foreign ministers of GCC States that America’s security commitment “to the people and the nations of the Gulf is rock-solid and unwavering”. She advocated taking “practical and specific steps to strengthen our mutual security, such as helping our militaries improve interoperability, cooperate on maritime security and missile defense, and coordinate responses to crises.”

Her words may sound reassuring to some in our region; others may sleep better at night in the knowledge that Washington proposes to cushion us with a missile shield. What’s there to object to when the superpower wants to take Gulf States under its mighty wing, you may ask, especially at a time of heightened threats? However, in my view, those people should think again.

Mrs. Clinton’s statement had an effect on me, but not the one she intended. Far from feeling grateful or comforted, my overwhelming emotion was one of ‘Here we go again’ annoyance. My mind immediately transported me back to the 1990s when I met with former US Assistant Secretaryof- State Richard Murphy, then a US Special Envoy, for a game of tennis; we had played several times before.

On this occasion Mr. Murphy was accompanied by the US Ambassador to Jordan Roscoe Seldon Suddarth. While we were resting between games, our conversation turned to America’s relationship with Gulf countries; something Murphy said on this topic left me quietly seething. He somewhat proudly disclosed that “we” [the US] have assumed responsibility for the protection of the Arabian Gulf from the British”.

Once I’d digested his message I asked him “Who gave you that authority?” He responded that the UK had handed the Gulf region over to America. “Strange that we the people who live here are the last to know,” I retorted, asking whether the region’s rulers had given their permission for such handover, even though I was certain they hadn’t.”

Almost two decades later, I had hoped things had changed. GCC States are economically sound; they enjoy stable governance, are blessed by a wealth of expertise and are militarily strong.

I support our collaboration with big powers, but we should not allow them to control our future. Such powers are fickle; they operate out of self-interest as we witnessed when Britain allowed the Shah of Iran to rob the UAE of its islands. We’ve seen how this White House and the last have delivered Iraq to a pro-Iranian regime that classes Iraqi Sunnis as second-class citizens.

If Iraq, one of the larger Arab countries, as regards to territory and population, was parceled up this way, who knows what our fate could be if we abandon it to others’ self-serving hands!

A great friend of mine who happens to be a US diplomat once said to me: “We don’t care who rules in the GCC as long as the oil is flowing our way.” Of course, it’s a little more complex than that nowadays when the US imports only 16 percent of its petroleum from the Arabian Gulf; today, the US government is out to control regional oil exports to keep energyhungry competitors like China and India under its heel.

Haven’t we the peoples and governments of the Gulf learned any lessons from the USled invasion and occupation of Iraq, which we were powerless to prevent? Besides being a humiliation, there is danger in relying on another country, even an ostensibly friendly country, for our defense. What happens if and when we disagree in the future? We will either have to bury our principles and bend our heads – or be vulnerable to a protector-turned-foe.

First it was Britain, now it’s the US. If we accept the principle that our peoples and land can be ‘bought and sold’ who knows what ‘boss’ we’ll get next time. The Iranian ayatollahs perhaps! You may smile, but just look what’s happening in Bahrain where Tehran has planted poisonous seeds capable of spreading to neighboring states if it were not for the determined stand of the Bahraini government aided by Saudi Arabia.

GCC States must unite and reinforce a common defense capability not only to keep our people safe but also to take charge of our own neighborhood.

It’s good that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are taking a diplomatic leadership role on the world’s stage but that’s not enough. In a perfect world, the GCC should be equipped to step-in to save Syrian civilians, men, women and children who are being butchered by Bashar Al-Assad and his gang daily.

Just like the Americans, the Europeans and the Turks, Gulf leaders are verbally holding the regime’s feet to the fire but still the killing goes on. The Syrian opposition require more than mere words. They need weapons and military advisors. Syria is our house, our Arab house, and we shouldn’t wait for Russia and China’s approval before we take action.

I’ll repeat what I’ve written in many of my previous columns. We have to quit being our own worst enemy. If we don’t get a grip on Syria, if we allow this humanitarian tragedy to continue unabated, this fever will reach our area via Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. This is more than simply freeing Syrians from dictatorship; it’s also about rescuing GCC States and Lebanon from Iran’s long penetrating arm.

As a citizen of the GCC, I would ask our leaders to consult with their people; not only those within their inner circles but also others who love their nation’s soil and will protect it with their blood. I talk to Gulf nationals regularly on this topic.

I know that deep down they’re greatly concerned about Iran’s intimidating announcements, war games, missile tests and naval exercises on their doorstep even if they try not to show it. And where is our answer to those threats? Where are our displays of power? Are we waiting for the Pentagon to launch military exercises on our behalf?

I can only hope that our leaders assess the volatile climate and come-up with an urgent plan of action.

I pray that their hearts will be brave enough, their minds focused enough and their resilience unbreakable enough to propel our heads high and afford us the security we crave.

From my own perspective, there’s only one thing I’d like to say to Mrs. Clinton. “Thanks, but no thanks!”

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