The venue is well-organised. The door of the aircraft opens. An old man exits the aircraft and stumbles around blindly, with little comprehension of what he’s doing. If he has any, it barely shows. He dresses elegantly, but his weakness and lack of control render his outward attempts to look powerful as useless as the attempts of his security detail to steady him.
He stumbles. A stronger gentleman, ostensibly an old enemy, catches him when he’s at his weakest, and guides him in a patriarchal manner onto his path. Those around him try to look on, pretending in vain that nothing happened, powerless to end the humiliation of the man they’re obliged to defer to as their ‘leader’, and the fact that he ended up turning to the sworn enemy, Iranian Shiite president Hasan Rouhani, for support.
This incident doesn’t just represent the elderly (or possibly, drunken) faltering of the emir of Kuwait, ‘his highness’ Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on the red carpet during his recent Iranian visit. This incident speaks volumes about the geopolitical state of the whole region.
Since the Obama administration has deliberately ‘upended’ who their friends and allies are in the region, in favour of forging a new regional alliance with Iran to safeguard US interests in the Middle East (prior to the end of the US’ large-scale disengagement from the region), the Gulf states have been somewhat thrown out in the cold, snubbed by the largest country on earth, which they would previously have called their closest friend and ally.
This has left the Arab states, especially those in the Gulf, in an increasingly untenable position. They depend upon the US for sales of their oil, they depend on the US for security cooperation and agreements, they depend on the US for trade and security in the face of Iran’s growing imperialist ambitions (the latter of which Obama has increasingly denied them lately)… Yet all the US wants to do is limit its engagement with them in favour of Iran.
In so many words, they need to toe the US’ regional line or risk losing a lot of money, and maybe even their own power; the threat of popular revolution still lingering in the air for them, a loss of foreign support during an insurrection would be a nightmare for these reactionary regimes. They depend on US dollars. When the US says “jump”, they are obliged to ask “How high?” Now-deceased autocrat, and “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia addressed the elephant in the room when he bluntly stated that: “After Allah, we can count on the United States.” Now the United States seems much less zealous about cooperation with them.
Now the US has little interest in making them jump in comparison to the jumping they are eager to see Ali Khamenei do, both in terms of regional cooperation and in terms of their nuclear program. Thus, the US has a somewhat limited interest in cooperating with the Gulf leaders (at least in comparison to Iran), while at the same time, it wants to keep them on a tight leash, ensuring that they continue to follow the US’ regional line.This means that their hands are tied when it comes to safeguarding their interests in the face of Iranian strength becoming increasingly palpable across the region. Bashar al-Assad has been strengthened in Syria as a result of Iran’s unending military support and the support of their regional proxy Hezbollah, Iran has near-complete control of policy in Iraq (and has had it for a considerable amount of time, even before the US withdrawal), Iranian money and weapons are responsible for upping the ante in the Shiite insurgency in Yemen, you name it.
In addition, Iranian strength is one of the biggest factors in keeping Nouri al-Maliki, the embattled Iraqi Prime Minister, in power. The US cannot afford to lose him, and as a result, it has even openly discussed further cooperating with Iran, and has started to make inroads already. All the incentives are there in Obama’s head to expand his relationship with Iran… Or so he thinks.
No matter that it is Iran and Assad which sponsored and fanned the flames of ISIS in Syria and Iraq in order to undermine both revolutions there (ISIS’ actions have been a gift to Iran, and to all the authoritarian regimes in the region which want the people to see ISIS as the only alternative), no matter that Iranian weapons killed scores of western troops in Iraq, and no matter that it is the Iranian-fanned, sectarian policies of Maliki which led to the Sunni Revolution in Iraq in the first place, after the US troop withdrawal. Ali Khedery in the Washington Post reported what happened prior to the US troop withdrawal, when Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful mass-murderer, summoned Iraq’s leaders, on behalf of Khamenei:
Soleimani dictated the outcome on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader: Maliki would remain premier; Jalal Talabani, a legendary Kurdish guerilla with decades-long ties to Iran, would remain president; and, most important, the American military would be made to leave at the end of 2011. Those Iraqi leaders who cooperated, Soleimani said, would continue to benefit from Iran’s political cover and cash payments, but those who defied the will of the Islamic Republic would suffer the most dire of consequences.
But who cares about the truth? Obama isn’t big on the details. Or if he is, he’s more shrewd than he appears. Iran certainly has an interest in getting the US to help them fight their genocidal battles for them, and continues to strongly encourage the US to take up the offer.
The Gulf leaders would dearly love to counter this rising ‘Safavid’ tide. They have more than enough resources, both financial and military, to do so into the bargain.
They could supply anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian revolutionaries, deliberately starved of them by the international community, to counter Assad’s heavily Iranian-backed army, and help to cause the Iranians significant losses in personal and money, draining its ability to expand its influence in the region. They could help to enforce a trade and arms embargo on Iran, dealing it significant losses (much Iranian money runs through Dubai, for example). They could also refuse to toe the US line, making good on their previous posturing in which they threatened to go it alone, with or without US backing.
However, they have done none of these things. Why? They’re simply too dependent on US money and support. The US can yell: ‘Fuck you!’ to its hearts content at these aloof emirs, kings, princes, and other jumped-up autocrats, and all they can do is either force a friendly smile at Obama, direct empty threats or gestures in his direction (even in the face of often deep unpopularity at home, in the case of Bahrain) or make empty threats to pursue their ambitions without US support (in the case of Saudi Arabia).
The reality is that as long as the Arab ‘leaders’ continue to depend on US money and influence, they have to get US permission for many of their own actions, actions which they should be able to carry out themselves as sovereign (ostensibly) nations. They can’t give anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian revolutionaries without the US’ blessing, they can’t try to isolate Iran without the US giving it the go-ahead, and they certainly haven’t the courage to go cold-Turkey and stop taking instructions from Washington. Not only that, but they’re terrified of popular revolutions driving them from power, and know that if the US abandoned them as it abandoned Hosni Mubarak, who it abandoned when expedient (which scared them to death), their power and wealth is at risk. If they pull away from the US, this becomes all the more likely in the long-term.
In short, their options aren’t exactly savoury (if you’re a plump, self-interested tyrant, that is) – go against US wishes and try to actively fight Iranian imperialism (the very imperialism which the US now wants to actively assist) and risk significant losses, economic, financial and military (and maybe even of your whole regime), or end up humiliatingly bowing down to Iranian imperialism in an attempt to salvage what remains of their weakened regional ambitions.
Judging from recent events, it seems that many of them (at least) have decisively decided to go for the latter, and reach for the sky… Or rather, for the US dollars. Saudi Arabia fired Bandar Bin Sultan, the security chief responsible for assisting Syrian fighters, seemingly on the orders of the US government. Qatar is dealing with Hezbollah and cooperating with Iran (the same forces committing a sectarian genocide against their Sunni brothers in Syria), and working with the ‘resistance’ (a thinly-veiled Iranian imperialist venture), and continue to refuse to arm their comrades in Syria because of a lack of US ‘permission’.
Hamas, which had previously shifted away from Assad (and thus lost 99% of the support it received from Tehran), has shifted back towards Iran in an attempt to regain previous funding, and gone back to praising the genocidal regime in Syria… That said, Hamas has always been cynical with its stances, and somewhat cautiously sat on the fence as the Syrian people were slaughtered, to see if they could come out on the right side.
The surrender to the new US-Iran axis is going along swimmingly. If one of these ‘leaders’ had anything resembling a backbone, they could use their abundant resources to re-shape the region for good or bad. But they’re not ready to go cold Turkey on the US by any means. Humiliation and subjugation over less wealth and power any day. Rouhani leading a helpless Arab ’emir’ along his own path – the path of the Iranian regime – is a hell of a metaphor for that.
What they don’t realise is that the more they kowtow to the US and Iran, the less chances they have of keeping said wealth and power, as time will truly show them.