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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

We are not sheep

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group

The United States policy of "duel containment" and its unquestioning support of Israel have exposed a widening gap between Middle Eastern Governments and their people. While regional governments express support in principle for American policy, the ordinary people of the Arab nations wish to see the United states pull its sizable military force out of the region, end its sanctions on Iraq and put pressure on Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions on Jewish Settlement of the west bank and Jerusalem.

The foundation of American policy in the Gulf is the belief that both Iraq and Iran pose a serious threat to the security of the GCC states, thus to regional stability and the free flow of oil. This basic assumption, accepted by the US's allies in the region is now being called into question by many of of them, as they see prominent public figures in the United States openly question the correctness of their governments foreign policy. It is increasingly felt that if such important US public figures are voicing unease about US Government policy aims then these policy aims must have some hidden rationale behind them which may not be in the interests of the US's current Gulf allies.

This blindness on the part of the US, and to some extent its European ally Britain, seven years after the Gulf war, and two decades after Britain's withdrawal from the Gulf, fuels the growing unease with which the policy of "Duel containment" is viewed by Arabs throughout the region. It's like two university students who study for many years for their final Maths exam, putting in vast amounts of study time, then come the day of the exam, they fail because they have been reading the wrong text books and so are unable to solve the complex mathematical problems posed in the actual exam.

Arab intellectuals and analyst are increasingly critical of the US role in the Middle East, which they see as securing American economic and cultural hegemony in the region, and pushing the Gulf states towards a strategic and economic alliance with Israel, and not the stated object of protecting the Gulf states from threats from more powerful neighbours. This view of the hegemonic role of the United States can be seen reflected in the opinions of ordinary Arab people in any coffee shop or souk throughout the Arab world.

From a Gulf prospective the American rationale for this intense security relationship is to force the governments of the Gulf countries to spend enormous amounts of money on American Weapons; according to some observers over US$ 82 billion has been spent on security by the Gulf states since the 1991 Gulf war. Had the Gulf states spend only a part of this sum on infrastructure, highways, education, and social development growing domestic problems such as unemployment, the lifting of state subsidies on basic goods and services and budget deficits which are coming to dominate the political agendas of these states could be addressed more effectively. GCC citizens are beginning to realise that every dirham or dinar spent on arms is at the expense of their domestic well being.

One Kuwaiti economic expert calculates that the GCC states spend US$ 60,000 annually on each soldier or defence job. Enough, he calculates, to create five new civilian jobs. Gulf citizens know that their governments have to create around 825,000 jobs in the region before the year 2000, in order to employ their new graduates who are the vanguard of the 42 per cent of the Gulf population that is under 15 years of age. The connection in the minds of people in the Gulf, between defence spending and domestic economic problems is becoming clearer.

Money is not the only reason that the people in the Gulf think the United States demands such an all embracing relationship , it is a widely held belief that another important reason is the need of the US to support its main client state Israel, by pushing the Gulf states to normalise relations with Israel which would give the Israelis economic advantages in the region because of their large manufacturing base and powerful market economy. This belief is more often heard than the previous argument because of the continuing sympathy among Gulf publics and governments for the Palestinians, their suspicions of Israeli intentions, and the sometimes exaggerated view of the Israeli - American relationship.

Since Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 sentiment against the Israelis has been growing and there has seen immense criticism of the United States for its support of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. many intellectuals and clerics in all Islamic countries see such support as sowing seeds of hatred and a desire for revenge in the minds of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. this along with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel, the failure to achieve progress on any front in the peace process, and his plan to expand Jewish settlements around Jerusalem ( Jabal Abu Ghanaym and Har Homa) have led to a reversal of earlier trends among Gulf Governments to follow a path of reconciliation with Israel in the interests of peace and for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

It is clear that the problems in the peace process are tied to the reluctance of the the United States to categorically condemn Israel's current policy of confrontation as seen when, to avoid upsetting the powerful Washington Jewish lobby, the US twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions against Israeli settlement expansion. actions such as these bring into question the effectiveness of the American role in the region.

Many Gulf observers see the doubts expressed by many prominent former U.S. officials such as Richard Murphy, Richard Chaney, Zbignew Brzezinski and Brent Scrowcroft as proof that American policy is failing to accomplish its publicly stated goals of containing Iran and toppling the Regime in Bagdad. They can see with their own eyes that Saddam still calls the shots and continues to make the US look foolish and a bully, while in Iran the election of Khatami as president makes it more likely that Iran will regularise its relationships with the rest of the international community. Yet, despite its failure there is no change in US policy. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that American objectives in the Gulf are not those publicly stated by the American Government adds credence to the notion that there is a hidden agenda behind the continuation of such an obviously failed policy, namely, the continuation of American influence in the Middle East exclusively serving American Interests in the region.

American Influence is a delicate topic in the governments of the region. officials might raise mild objections to certain aspects of US policy in the region but never question America's motives. This is partly due to the fact that since the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi the Gulf countries have failed to adopt a collective security programme that would reduce the regions complete dependence on the United States.

The master and servant relationship that has developed between the Gulf countries and the US because of this failure to agree a joint security plan. Arab states must recognise that the only way to throw off this mantle of servitude to US military power, is to form a Arab Military Defence Force, that has charter spelling out its exact role and a mandate powerful enough to counter any threat from within the region or from without. Such a force is possible if individual governments stop placing their own national interests above all others and realise that this national self interest keeps them militarily weak.

As economic and population pressures increase throughout the region the annexation of the Gulf states might again seem a quick solution to a hard pressed nation on their borders with armed forces large enough to overwhelm any or all of the Gulf states.

Currently local regional governments are unable to react quickly or in a unified and coordinated way to any of the problems that confront them, it requires the setting up of a body able to formulate common policy on such matters as defence, trade and strategic economic development and having the strength to implement policy across all the states in the region. This is a bold step and requires trust and courage from all the governments in the region to implement. But a failure to do so would leave the Gulf states forever vulnerable to external pressure from whatever quarter. and ensure that they remain dependant on American military power to ensure their independence.

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