On the western shores of the Persian Gulf, the hitherto pro-Western sheikdoms are beginning to flinch. Sensing weakness on the American side, Sultan Qaboos ibn Said Al Said, the leader of the Emirate of Oman, recently visited Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution. And he brought along a delegation of security and economic advisors, despite pressure from the U.S. and its Western allies not to go to Iran. Oman has had strong security and economic ties with the U.S. and the West. The talk held with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei on regional issues and on the best way to strengthen political and economic bonds between Oman and Iran should therefore be cause for concern.
Qaboos, like his fellow Arabs in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, is sensing that Iran’s power is ascending and that their traditional alliances with Britain and the U.S. will amount to nothing when Iran becomes a nuclear power with hegemony in the Persian Gulf and beyond. Qaboos and the other sheikdom rulers fear that Iran may destabilize their states. Moreover, they do not see a counter power to Iran that would stop the race by the Shiite mullahs to control the Gulf. Qaboos and the Qataris, like Jumblatt and others in the region, view Obama as weak and irresolute.
The largest of the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, is angry with Obama over his softness towards Iran and his impotence with stopping the Iranian nuclear project. Saudi Arabia fears the growing power of Iran and its influence over the Shiite masses in its oil-rich eastern provinces. Saudi Foreign Minister Feisal expressed his contempt for the Obama administration in front of the international media, when he rejected Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s request for Saudi goodwill gestures towards Israel.
President Obama’s friendliness towards the Arab and Muslim world and popularity as a different American president have done little to soften the positions of America’s enemies in the region. Rather, it has raised the confidence of America’s enemies — Iran and Syria — and increased fear in the hearts of American allies in Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Riyadh, not to mention the Gulf sheikdoms.
Obama’s claim that he understands Islamic culture is failing him. In the harsh and arid region that is the Middle East (Indonesia, where he grew up, is not the Middle East) you have to inspire fear in your enemies and confidence in your friends.