Keen to rally GCC member countries to support the P5+1 – Iran nuclear deal, the US President has vowed to talk tough to America’s Gulf Arab allies on poor governance, which he believes gives birth to terrorists. President Barack Obama islong on rhetoric but short on facts, says Linda S. Heard.
It’s no secret that Gulf States have deep concerns about the framework agreement to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, which they see as empowering an arch geopolitical rival engaged in furthering its expansionist ambitions. They, together with other regional state actors were not appraised of secret US Iranian negotiations that led up to talks in Switzerland and have been sidelined since. Obama sought to reassure Gulf heads of state that Washington had their backs, but then he dropped this bombshell during an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
While acknowledging that America’s “Sunni Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia” are threatened externally, his main focus was upon internal threats, such as “populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and, in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances.”
“And so part of our job,” he said, “ is to work with these states and say, ‘How can we build your defense capabilities against external threats, but also, how can we strengthen the body politic in these countries so that Sunni youth feel that they’ve got something other than the Islamic State to choose from…”
Those words were followed-up with this comment that was anything but reassuring:
“I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their countries… That’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that we have to have.”
Obama was wrong on so many levels. Firstly, it’s not his “job” to lecture sovereign states or attempt to interfere in their internal affairs.
Secondly, Iran has already used affiliated leaderships, militias and armed groups to control four Arab countries - Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Thirdly, and most importantly, his assertion that Gulf populations are “alienated”, “underemployed” and are resentful that “there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances” is not only patently ridiculous but bordering on laughable.
Styles of governance vary throughout the Gulf and don’t pretend to mirror Western democracies (and why should they?) And with the exception of Bahrain, where Tehran has been fomenting dissent among the Shiite population, there’ve been very few signs of discontent. Indeed, citizens have little to be unhappy about. An indicator of this is the fact that very few seek to emigrate. Foreign workers, however, clamor for visas.
Iranians have risen-up their dictatorship that masquerades as a democracy, on numerous occasions only to be met with an iron fist. Iranians do get to vote for a president, but he’s more of a figurehead than a decision-maker when the final say on all important issues rests in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Citizens of GCC countries enjoy some of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world, benefit from world class infrastructure and such social advantages as free higher education and medical treatment. Unemployment levels throughout the Gulf, with the sole exception of Oman, are lower than those of even the US - and substantially lower than Iran’s that currently stands at 12.4 per cent.
And whereas zero percent of GCC populations live below the poverty line, 18.4 per cent of Iranians are officially classed as poor. Contrast, too, Iran’s per capita GDP that in 2013 stood at just US$ 12,800 with Saudi Arabia’s that was close to US$ 26,000 during that same year.
If Obama is genuinely interested in the motivations that drive young men into the arms of extremists with “nihilistic ideologies”, he should take a long hard look at decades of his own country’s foreign policy. US blind support for Israel reeks of double standards. The US-led invasion of Iraq on false pretexts has divided the country up on sectarian lines. America’s intervention in Libya together with its western allies has turned this once stable country into a terrorist’s swamp. Washington’s finger, whenever it’s been poked into the Middle East, has resulted in chaos, bloodshed and sectarianism.
Furthermore, the nihilistic ideologies he mentioned are drawn from that of one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founders, Sayyed Qutb, whose works provided inspiration for Al Qaeda and Takfiri groups. Qutb believed that both non-Muslims and Muslims who rejected his radical ideas were all non-believers worthy of destruction. Yet, in 2013, Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood over the will of the Egyptian people who took to the squares calling for Mohamed Morsi’s ouster – and to this day he calls for Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders, whose following have orchestrated attacks throughout Egyptian cities, to be freed.
Lastly, if, as he suggests, dissatisfaction with unemployment and political grievances are the main drivers behind the radicalisation of Muslim youth, then how does he account for the fact that substantial numbers of western-born young men and women have headed to Syria to join the Islamic State? Would-be fighters and so-called Jihadi brides from the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden and The Netherlands have flocked to Syria, via Turkey. Are we to suppose that nationals of those western states have no legitimate political outlet for their grievances?
According to Alex Simpson of the UK-based counter-extremism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, “the notion that socio-economics is a driving force for radicalization appears to be somewhat of a red herring…” Simpson quotes British journalist, Maryam Francois-Cerrah, saying, “They’re coming from Portsmouth, they’re coming from Cardiff; they’re coming from Aberdeen. They’re not investment bankers from Chelsea. Let’s face it.” Simpson counters with “Given that Aberdeen’s employment rate is currently the second highest in the UK and its GDP per head is within the top 20 of EU cities, Francois- Cerrah inadvertently weakens her own argument.”
Take, for instance, one of the planet’s ‘Most Wanted’, Mohamed Emwazi (dubbed Jihadi John) - the Briton who became the Islamic State’s highest profile executioner. He is said to have been born to a well-to-do family and was an excellent student. He obtained a computer programming degree at Westminster University and, in 2010, he was working for a Kuwaiti IT company, described by the boss as “the best employee we ever had”. Likewise, the Ford Hood attacker, Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist, came from a well-off middle-class background.
Psychiatrist, Marc Sageman, who formerly worked for the CIA, studied the backgrounds of 172 terrorists and found that almost 50 per cent were professionals, 75 per cent were drawn from the middle or upper class; many had college degrees with some boasting doctorates. It’s worth recalling, too, that the most infamous terrorist of all time, Osama bin Laden, was a multimillionaire from a respectable family.
President Obama is either grossly uninformed or, more likely, is wielding fabricated conclusions on terrorism with which to batter Gulf States into submission over the Iran deal. Unfortunately for him, he’s behaved like the man who used a hammer to kill a fly perched on his friend’s head. In this case, when he verbally hammers the leaderships of Gulf States with false accusations, he is slowly but surely murdering their trust.