Want to understand the real Middle East? Then pay attention to the following. Let’s say an important and outspoken Gulf Arab gave a frank and thoughtful assessment of the region’s security problems. What would he say and what would that tell you? And how would that differ from the stereotypes of what Arabs — especially non-Islamist Arab leaders — think as presented by the Western media and academia?
In fact, Dahi Khalfan Tamim recently gave such a speech. He is the respected police chief of Dubai. I don’t agree that everything he says reflects reality but I believe — and there is plenty of other evidence for this assertion — that everything he says reflects what the Gulf Arab elite thinks.
First, let’s quote President Barack Obama’s State of the Union message:
“The United States [is] safer and more respected around the world.”
Is America seen as weak and unreliable? No, says Obama:
“That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Capetown to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.”
More respected? Higher opinions? Well what does Tamim think? Just this:
“In my opinion, U.S. policy in the region is the number one security threat. Our American friends might not like this, but experience has taught us that the Americans do not have friends. On the contrary, they are quick to wash their hands of their friends.”
This, of course, is a reference to Obama dumping the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes while also reflecting the Gulf Arabs’ observing Washington’s breaking of agreements with the horrible Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, U.S. support for the overthrow of Bahrain’s regime, and even lack of backing for Israel. Even if relatively moderate Arabs don’t like the U.S.-Israel alliance, they know that American behavior in that case also shows how it treats allies. As a Saudi said privately not long ago, “If you treat Israel, part of your family, like this, how are you going to treat us?”
Obama says that the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan are a success; that his policy has weakened Iran; and that his support for the “Arab Spring” and the Islamist movement is bringing gains for the United States.
What does Tamim think?
“U.S. policy in the Gulf constitutes a threat, because they have ulterior motives: to overthrow the regimes….They adopted the path and ideology of Khomeini. They embraced the same idea, and began to export the revolution.”
What revolution? The Islamist revolution. In the Middle East, if you are for change and Islamists taking power, then you are against the governments of Algeria, Israel, Jordan, and all the Gulf Arab governments.
It is a mistake — though we can understand why Gulf Arabs make it — to think the Obama administration supports Iran, the external threat they face. But it is no mistake to think that despite all of its efforts on the Iranian nuclear program, the Obama administration is doing nothing to battle the spread of Iranian influence in places like Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon or its overall hegemony in the Gulf.