US-Gulf divergence: Placing risky bets
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spotlights seemingly widening differences between the United States and its closest Middle Eastern allies, sparking eulogies for an era of bygone American regional dominance.
“America’s Middle East Friendships are Dying a Natural Death” predicted foreign policy analyst Steven A. Cook this week after countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, to varying degrees, rebuffed US requests to help reduce energy prices and join sanctions against Russia.
A Saudi television satire that could not have been broadcast without at least tacit government approval mocked US President Joe Biden as a leader who had lost his memory and needed Vice President Kamel Harris as a prop. The reference to Mr. Biden’s memory was an apparent reference to Saudi and Emirati assertions that Mr. Biden has forgotten who America’s longstanding regional allies are.
In a further sign of strained US-Saudi relations, Saudi Arabia this week pushed the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its partners, including Russia, to stop using oil data from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) numbers when assessing the state of the oil market because of the United States’ alleged sway over the organisation.
Swansongs for US regional partnerships may be premature, despite the daylight in attitudes towards the Ukraine crisis, a divergence in perceived national interests, Saudi and Emirati frustration with recent American policies towards Iran, and uncertainty about Washington’s continued commitment to regional security.
Analysis of the impact and political significance of the US military presence in the Middle East suggests a degree of interdependence between the United States and its regional partners that makes their partnerships both indispensable and irreplaceable for Middle Eastern autocratic rulers.
The analysis also suggests that neither China nor Russia have the capability, or a military strategy predicated on the ability to project force in any part of the world or the wherewithal to replace the United States as the guarantor of the Middle East’s autocratic rule.
Moreover, the Russian military performance in Ukraine laid bare logistical and maintenance problems that, coupled with the sanctions, make Russia a less attractive alternative arms supplier.
Saudi and Emirati crown princes Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed may be testing the limits of the leverage they derive from their interdependence with the United States by refusing to increase oil production to reduce oil prices and condemn Russia.
They may also be venting their anger at a US refusal to respond more robustly to Iranian and Iranian-backed Houthi rebel attacks on their oil facilities and critical infrastructure.
The US Navy said this week that it would initiate a new task force with allied countries to patrol the Red Sea in response to Houthi attacks on shipping in the strategic waterway without identifying the rebels by name.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly apologized to Mr. Bin Zayed last month for the slow US response to the attacks. Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to Washington, said a meeting between the two men had helped “move the relationship between the UAE and the US back on the right track.”
The announcement and Mr. Biden’s apology reaffirmed that the US military presence in the Gulf remains one pillar of the Gulf states’ multi-faceted regime survival strategy.
A study by political scientists and international affairs scholars Andrew Stravers and Dana El Kurd argues that, despite paying lip service to democratic values, the US commitment to autocratic rule in the Gulf is as much a function of US military strategy as it is of the Middle East’s strategic geography that straddles some of the world’s most important maritime chokepoints.
“American forces have an autocratising effect on host nations in strategically valuable regions. American and host interests align…in supporting regime survival where the location is critical to the United States and its global system of trade and military pre-eminence. This alignment produces increasing autocracy rather than simple regime stability,’ Mr. Stravers and Ms. El Kurd wrote.
The authors argue that an American military presence can increase autocracy in strategic regions “where American planners are uncertain of the (national) military’s ability to withstand regime change.”
Some leaders in the Gulf have at times shared that uncertainty. Mr. Bin Zayed, for example, contracted Erik Prince, founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater, more than a decade ago to help ensure regime security.
Mr. Stravers and Ms. El Kurd go on to reason that the US military presence “produces a need for the host regime to suppress opposition, in order to maintain perceived stability and entrench its domestic position. This increases the level of authoritarianism over time.”
This phenomenon is particularly true for the Gulf, where the loss of a military base would have far more far-reaching consequences for the US global position than the need to close or move a facility in, for example, Japan.
The authors’ emphasis on the significance of strategic geography in support of autocracy or democratization is borne out in a comparison of US policy regarding the 2011 popular uprising in Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, and protests six years earlier in Uzbekistan, where the US had a significant military presence at the height of the Afghan war.
The US stood aside when Saudi-led Gulf troops quashed the revolt in Bahrain. In Uzbekistan, Washington had no problem losing its military facilities after taking the government to task for repressing protests and violating human rights.
“An American military presence has an autocratising effect in particular regions of strategic importance. In areas of less strategic importance, American presence has relatively little effect on regimes,” the authors concluded.
Mr. Stravers and Ms. El Kurd’s analysis raises the question of whether recent Gulf moves related to Ukraine and Emirati efforts to return Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab and international fold signal a watershed in relations with the United States or an effort by Gulf leaders to flex their muscles at a time that the US may need them most.
The tendency of the US military presence to encourage increased autocracy may be something Messrs. Bin Salman and Bin Zayed don’t want to lose, particularly not without an immediate replacement.
That is all the truer, given that it is not clear that either man has full confidence in the ability of his security forces to fend off a concerted effort at regime change or an assault by Iran.
Messrs. Bin Salman and Bin Zayed’s problem is that the decision about the future of the US presence in the Gulf is beyond their grasp.
Washington is lowering its valuation of the strategic importance of the Gulf’s geography as its interest in the free flow of the region’s energy diminishes.
Messrs. Bin Salman and Bin Zayed may be placing a risky bet: put the relationship with the US on edge in the hope that the need to replace Russian energy will return Washington to its senses.
That may be a long shot. But, just like Saudis and Emiratis remember that the US did not respond robustly to attacks on their critical facilities even if it took steps to reassure them, US policy and opinionmakers are likely to recall friends who were absent when they needed help most.
Can Erdogan repay the people’s trust?
The Turkiye nation has concluded the most important election in the country’s modern history. The people of modern Turkey came to determine their destiny at a time when their national economic condition is at a very deplorable level. The depreciation of the lira against the dollar has made the cost of goods and the cost of living more expensive. Inflation is now rampant in the country. Economists say inflation reached 85 percent last year.
The country’s currency, the lira, has fallen to a tenth of its value against the dollar over the past decade. Abnormal inflation causes the prices of goods to rise. Imports cost more as the lira depreciates. On the other hand, 11 provinces in Turkey are struggling to deal with the shock of two earthquakes recently. More than 50 thousand people died in this earthquake.
Despite this severe national crisis and economic instability, the majority of the Turkish people have not lost faith in Erdogan. This is an amazing event. Turkey’s 2023 national election reinstated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the sultan in power for the past 20 years, as president. On the other hand, the main challenger, the presidential candidate of the Nations Alliance and the leader of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilizdarglu, was defeated.
Erdoğan was elected the first mayor of Istanbul in 1994. At that time, he took the initiative to solve various problems that arose in Istanbul due to rapid population growth, such as air pollution, waste collection, and a shortage of clean water. However, after four years, he had to stand in court for reciting a controversial poem. Erdogan was sentenced to four months in prison for spreading religious hatred. Basically, this event was the unforgettable beginning of the significant public opinion formation behind his rise.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan took power as the country’s prime minister in 2003. The people of Turkey trusted him in the 2018 elections as well. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been elected President of Turkey for the third consecutive term. He will lead the country in the international arena for the next five years. Turkey will create a new equation in geopolitics. An experienced Erdogan will negotiate well with international actors.
Erdogan comes from the conservative political camp. He entered politics with the Salvation Party of political guru Nazimuddin Erbakan. In 1976, he was elected head of the Beyoglu region of the youth wing. The National Salvation Party was headed by Nazimuddin Erbakan. He later served as Prime Minister of Turkey in 1996–97.
Modern Turkey emerged as a secular state under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s. Erdogan created a new national manifesto with a lot of new energy, new plans, and a new national manifesto in that country. The first decade of his AK Party rule saw democratic reforms in Turkey. It had to be done because of the country’s desire to join the European Union. During this time, Erdogan was praised by liberals at home and abroad for reducing the authority of the army in the country and working to protect the rights of women and minority ethnic groups. However, Erdogan was criticized for becoming more authoritarian over the next decade. According to many, Erdogan has exacerbated divisions in Turkey.
Basically, he became popular in the Muslim world by expressing his anti-US and especially anti-European attitude in the polls, winning the hearts of the voters, and developing relations with Muslim countries. He converted Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential system in 2014. According to the opposition, Erdogan made such changes in the regime to enjoy sole power. Erdogan’s supporters regard him as ‘fatherly’, but opponents consider him an ‘authoritarian’ ruler. Its reflection can be seen in the international environment. During Erdogan’s regime, on the one hand, the distance between Turkey, an important member of NATO, and its allies, the United States and Europe, increased. At the same time, the closeness is increasing with anti-Western Russia and China.
Jeffrey Mankoff, an analyst at the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Many officials and political leaders in Western countries are upset with Turkey’s Erdogan. They expressed disappointment in him. They believe that Erdogan is the main reason for Turkey’s growing distance from the West. He took everything personally and walked the path of cheap popularity.’
Therefore, with Erdogan ruling Turkey for the past 20 years, there has been a major change in Turkey’s foreign policy as well as socio-economic development. As a result of his long rule, he made many enemies and allies at home and abroad. Now it’s time to just watch, as Turkey’s economy is also seen as a big factor in this election. Will Erdogan be able to restore Turkey’s conventional economy, and how will he repay the public’s trust? These questions have become important.
The 32nd Arab League meeting will have a far-reaching impact
The Arab League is an alliance of states that currently has 22 member states in Northern Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula, which belongs geographically to Asia. All member countries together cover an area of 13.15 million km² (8.7% of the world’s inhabitable area). Significant parts are desert regions such as the Sahara and the Rub al-Khali sand desert. With about 456.52 million inhabitants, the area is home to about 5.8 percent of the world’s population.
On October 7, 1944, a “Protocol of Alexandria” was signed as a loose union. After elaborating on the ideas, the Arab League was founded the following year on 11 May 1945. The first member states were the kingdoms of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, as well as Lebanon, Syria, and the then Emirate of Transjordan.
The history of the Arab League since then has been marked by numerous political and military conflicts in the region. In the immediate post-war period, the growing Jewish population in Palestine played a major role. This led to the division of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state in 1949. With the withdrawal of the British Allies, there was also a lack of an overarching protective power and serious and recurrent conflicts with Israel arose.
The recent 32nd Arab League Meeting held in the magnificent city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has drawn to a successful close, leaving a profound impact on regional politics. High-ranking officials and diplomats from Arab nations gathered to discuss pressing issues and forge a path toward greater cooperation and unity. The meeting, which took place against a backdrop of evolving geopolitical dynamics, produced key decisions that are poised to shape the future of the Arab world.
Hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a staunch advocate of Arab solidarity and stability, the summit aimed to bolster inter-Arab relations and address the region’s most pressing challenges. Under the gracious patronage of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, leaders and representatives from across the Arab League engaged in constructive dialogue, fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie and shared vision.
One of the major highlights of the meeting was the unanimous agreement on establishing a joint counterterrorism center. This significant step underscores the Arab League’s commitment to combating terrorism and maintaining regional security. The center will serve as a platform for intelligence sharing, coordinated efforts, and capacity building among member states, further enhancing the collective response to the ever-present threat of extremism.
In addition to counterterrorism initiatives, the Arab League delegates focused on revitalizing the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been instrumental in pursuing a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The participants expressed their unwavering support for the rights of the Palestinian people and called for renewed international efforts to resume meaningful negotiations. The Arab League’s stance sends a clear message that a comprehensive and equitable solution is imperative for sustainable peace in the region.
Moreover, discussions during the summit centered on the ongoing crises in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Arab League members pledged increased support and cooperation in finding political solutions and bringing stability to these war-torn nations. The delegates affirmed their commitment to the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference, emphasizing the need for inclusive dialogue to end conflicts and restore peace.
The political impact of the Arab League Meeting cannot be understated. It signifies a renewed commitment to Arab unity and cooperation amid a rapidly changing regional landscape. The decisions made in Jeddah hold the potential to shape the political dynamics of the Arab world, ensuring stability, security, and prosperity for its nations and peoples.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for member states to strengthen bilateral relations and engage in fruitful discussions on areas of mutual interest. In the spirit of constructive diplomacy, numerous side meetings and cultural exchanges took place, fostering greater understanding and cooperation among Arab nations.
As the Arab League Meeting drew to a close, the host nation, Saudi Arabia, expressed gratitude to all participating countries for their valuable contributions and emphasized its commitment to further collaboration in the future. The outcomes of the meeting will be diligently pursued and implemented, underlining the shared determination of Arab nations to overcome challenges and seize opportunities for progress.
This time the participation of Syria was a milestone, it happened after 12 years of absence. Another important aspect was the attendance of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. These two important aspects will have far-reaching impacts on regional politics and global peace, stability, and security.
Regional Connectivity in the Gulf Cooperation Council
The Gulf Cooperation Council consists of a region of some of the most formidable economies in the world that enjoy vast oil and gas reserves which have brought them immense wealth. The GCC have combined oil reserves of about 497 billion barrels which is 34% of the world’s supply, according to King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. However, these countries also share similar problems, which have become increasingly apparent with the fluctuation and gradual decline in global oil prices as well as the impacts of climate change. Since gulf countries share similar economic issues, it means that they should take collaborative efforts to curb these problems as well. Enhancing regional connectivity is one way to achieve this. It will help improve the economies of all GCC member states in the future and allow them to connect with larger markets.
Over the years, several steps have been taken by gulf countries to improve regional connectivity. For instance, since 1980s, there have been plans and several attempts to create a common GCC currency termed as Khaleeji or Dinar. The currency is expected to be valued at around 1 USD = 1.984 KHJ. Although since then, Oman and the UAE have withdrawn from the plans until further notice, this idea still enjoys popularity and GCC governments are still considering it. The region already meets many of the necessary criteria for a common currency as all seven of the countries have very similar economies, values, cultures, and histories. A common currency would bolster trade flows between the countries by removing border barriers, which will result in cheaper goods and services, particularly of healthcare, tourism, and education, and economic well-being of all the countries involved as a result of increased regional connectivity. A common gulf currency would also reduce exchange-rate uncertainties. Tourists and citizens would not need to constantly exchange currencies when visiting different countries in the region. A common currency will also reduce barriers for the transfer of people between gulf countries which will make it easy to exchange skilled labour, thus decreasing unemployment overall and also producing more opportunities for highly educated domestic workers being produced every year. It will also lead to greater economic integration in the GCC as regional connectivity grows stronger.
GCC countries have also begun to seriously explore strengthening transport links. After careful thought and deliberation, gulf countries have agreed to build a 2177km GCC railway in 2009 stretching from Kuwait, entering Saudi Arabia, connecting Bahrain as well as Qatar, then moving through the UAE and ending in Oman. The railway will also connect vast networks of existing and planned railway networks in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Oman, further improving regional connectivity in the gulf. The project is expected to be completed by 2025 and is expected to drastically improve trade costs, travel times, and connectivity between ports and cities. It will boost trade flows across the bloc and attract foreign direct investment. The GCC also aims to establish a common market and joint Customs union to further strengthen regional connectivity, which will result in greater economic growth and integration. The Saudis have already started expanding their already vast network of railway tracks. They have completed the al-Qurayyat station which connects Riyadh to Jordan and the rest of northern Saudi Arabia, stretching across 1215km. Moreover, the kingdom completed the Haramain speed train at Rabigh Station which connects the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah through a 450 km track. The UAE has also expanded its existing railway infrastructure, especially with a national rail network connecting 11 cities with trains travelling 200km per hour. Moreover, the Qataris have also built an extensive railway network as part of their efforts to organize the FIFA World Cup last year which consists of 26 projects. These railway lines will be connected with the GCC railway and they will boost regional connectivity in the region, facilitating the transport of people, information, and goods.
Other measures that the GCC could take to enhance regional connectivity would be to take steps to incorporate long term strategies of each member. All GCC member states have similar long-term goals as outlined by Saudi Vision 2030, Bahrain Vision 2030, Kuwait Vision 2035, UAE Vision 2030, Qatar Vision 2030, and Oman Vision 2040. The crux of these plans is to rid GCC states of oil dependence, combat climate change, and increase tourism and entertainment for more economic diversification. Integrating these efforts will increase collaboration, which will duly increase regional connectivity, resulting in more efficient execution of these plans. Moreover, other approaches include easing or eliminating border restrictions to enable free movement between GCC states for citizens and tourists. A major factor limiting trade is border restrictions as trade is less likely to happen if there is a border in between, even if the distance is negligible. If border restrictions are eliminated, then trade will become more frequent and there will be greater regional connectivity between adjacent countries. Furthermore, tourists will also be able to easily access other GCC member states and hence spend more money, cross border competition between markets would also increase, leading to more competitive prices, and finally, it will also reduce price differentials for people who live in areas that are near borders.
For this to happen, GCC countries need to improve diplomatic relations among themselves. This is particularly true after the diplomatic tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia between 2017 and 2021 which had forced the GCC nation to seek reroute flights and vessels. Such diplomatic crises will harm prospects for regional connectivity in the GCC and therefore need to be avoided. Moreover, the GCC’s economic growth is expected only at 3.2%, which is much lower than the 7.3% figure estimated in 2022. The figure is also a decline from the 5.8% growth in 2022. Furthermore, oil prices had been declining since many years, which poses a danger to the economies of the GCC. Although a cut in output by OPEC+ member states will boost oil prices in the short-run (they already helped oil prices cross $80 per barrel), this is not sustainable for the GCC economies. Therefore, GCC countries face a range of serious challenges when it comes to regional connectivity. However, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges and the GCC enjoys potential to become an economic powerhouse in the region.
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