So now President Obama wants to organize a coalition to take on ISIS, the group whose rise he ignored on the theory that it was the terrorist “jayvee.” Arab states — notably Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan — and Turkey are to be key members of the coalition.
Obama assigns these states primary responsibility for mobilizing Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Presumably, Obama also wants their financial support and their help in cutting off funds to ISIS.
But there’s a problem: the Arab states don’t trust Obama. Liz Sly of the Washington Post reports:
In common with their fear of the Islamic State, the region’s leaders also share a deep mistrust of the Obama administration, rooted in the past three years of increasing disengagement from the Middle East as the United States has sought to distance itself from the turmoil engendered by the Arab Spring revolts. . . .
Already there is a disinclination to believe [Obama’s] promises, said Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.
“We have reached a low point of trust in this administration,” he said. “We think in a time of crisis Mr. Obama will walk away from everyone if it means saving his own skin.”
Obama walk away to save his own skin? Where could such an idea have come from?
Different countries are suspicious of the United States for different reasons, but all feel betrayed in some way by recent U.S. policies, said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Doha Institute in Qatar. . . .
Most Arab states see the Obama administration as having created the conditions that enabled the Islamic State to thrive by not being more helpful to moderates in Syria and by continuing to back Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq — long after it became clear that he was pursuing policies that were alienating the country’s Sunni minority.
Most Arab states are right.
Obama’s flip-flop on whether to take military action when Assad crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons plays an important role in the Arab perception that Obama is feckless:
Driving the concerns is the memory of Obama’s turnabout on Syria a year ago, when the White House did not follow through on a threat to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons. Obama instead struck a deal with the Assad government to dismantle its chemical arsenal.
The reversal was the culmination of a series of disappointments for Arab supporters of the Syrian rebels who felt that the Obama administration had not kept its promises to aid the anti-Assad opposition. Obama has already said that existing plans to empower the Syrian rebels will be implemented as part of the new strategy against the Islamic State.
But, asked Jamal Khashoggi, an influential Saudi journalist who runs Al Arab TV channel: “What guarantees do we have that what happened a year ago won’t be repeated again?”
Forget guarantees. What reason do the Arabs have to think it more likely than not that Obama will follow through against ISIS in Syria?
Obama’s overtures to Iran also play a key and well-deserved role in Arab mistrust of the U.S.:
The tacit alliance that has emerged in Iraq between the United States and Iran is further stirring unease that the new strategy will only further empower Iran and its Shiite allies at the expense of Sunni influence in the region. The example of the town of Amerli, where U.S. airstrikes helped Iranian-backed Shiite militias rescue the Shiite Turkmen town from a siege by the Islamic State, illustrated the ways in which the focus on defeating the Islamic State risks reinforcing Iranian influence, Alani said.
To Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies, the threat posed by Iran is at least as potent as that of the Islamic State, said Imad al-Salamey, a professor of political science at Lebanese American University in Beirut.
“In a strategic sense, the Islamic State does not pose a strategic threat to the gulf states the way Iran does,” he said, pointing to Arab concerns about expanding Iranian influence elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain.
Obama has dispatched John Kerry to the Middle East to rally the Arab states around Obama’s latest project. I suspect that the very appearance of our pretentious, foghorn Secretary of State, who not that long ago thought Assad was the key to lasting peace in the region, will reinforce the well-founded doubts about Obama’s seriousness and good faith.