By Brig (R) Samson Simon Sharaf
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson. He can be contacted at email@example.com
President Trump’s rocking visit to Saudi Arabia was just like an American reality show with plenty of pyrotechnic special effects thrown in. The high profile drama that played out on screens indicated a paradigm shift in Middle East politics. It appeared he had finally conquered the Southern Front of the US containment Strategy. His exuberant and aggressive body language indicated he had done the impossible by assuming command of the most unlikely alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel against a defiant Iran.
Saudi Arabia, by inviting every conceivable head of a Muslim state, sent a message that it controlled most of the Muslim world through its economic and theological clout. The Saudi dance with swords was a replay of US fanfare optics employed on visits of select heads of state. Escorted in a rhythm of rants and drums, President Trump could not resist the beat and moved in resonance. The event was far from symbolic and sent an unambiguous message. Trump had been won over in a very well-conceived and orchestrated event and would set aside traditional strategic rationales to create space for the US economy. Ethics of conscience, human rights and atrocities against victims were justified to make America great again, but his rhetoric exposed many cracks that shall widen in conflicting international dynamics.
President Trump was certainly on a high. The euphoria thus generated cast a hangover on the Orwellian sheep in Riyadh before his tour to Europe. EU leaders in comparison were no sheep. This ’high’ was repeatedly reflected in Brussels and G-7 Summit.
Though most NATO countries have been US allies in the war against terrorism, some like France and Britain have been complicit in conducting covert operations to destabilise Libya and Syria. Yet Europeans were not happy at the frequent references to NATO joining the US-Saudi brand of war against Muslim extremism. Commentators are of the view that many European countries are tiring of the US led military initiatives that actually sucked them into extremely complicated conflicts. The worst nightmare such conflicts pose for Europe is a constant flow of refugees and the spread of militants.
Hence, for the time being, Europe is not prepared to agree to a paradigm shift in the Middle East. They are in no hurry to become part of a fresh wave of violence in the region. According to Reuters, “Trump showed we have fundamental differences about what NATO is for, said one senior European NATO diplomat. NATO is designed to defend the territory of its members, not stop terrorism or immigration. We are heading in opposite directions.” The envoy added that, “the president’s criticism, carried risks for the United States by turning off Europe from NATO, sentiments already expressed by Germany and Norway”. As the visit progressed, the strongest of European leaders, Merkel though visibly upset, refrained from an open dissent, but post G7 summit she warned Europeans that “rather than rely on others, Europe must take its fate into its own hands.” Though it has not been declared, many events could have distanced Merkel from USA. Though she has not declared openly, she is weary of the Crimea intervention that made Russia more powerful. The Ukrainian Revolution was ill-thought out and badly executed. The flow of refugees convinces Merkel that complicated interventions in Middle East lacked ethics and morality. Rather, she took responsibility for sheltering the victims of migration created by such conflicts.
The Chilcot Report on invading and destroying Iraq is a stigma for Britain. Though the report is now public, there has been no accountability of British leaders at helm over their blunders in Iraq based on the sexed-up dossiers. Their actions led to human misery, the rise of ISIS, immigration crises and sectarian divides in the Muslim World. Merkel, unlike her British counterparts is a straight shooter and will resist towing an immoral line. This stance moves her closer to the Roman Catholic Church that feels the people affected by conflicts must be given shelter and assistance. In contrast President Trump looks at them as an enemy and refuses to take any moral and ethical responsibility for their miseries.
The Manchester bombing has once again proved the dangers of creating, employing and harbouring terrorists groups to destabilise countries. The Manchester bomber was part of a terrorist group created and handled by Britain against Qaddafi.
Brexit, supported by Trump, is set to create many issues for Europe. According to The New York Times, EU is set to lose its place as the world’s second largest economy and the second nuclear power. This would weaken Europe’s trans-Atlantic ties and leave it vulnerable to Russia. In Britain, effects of Brexit are already appearing in every sinew of life. This implies a rethink of foreign policy.
There is no doubt that Merkel is disappointed with Mr. Trump’s positions on NATO, Russia, climate change, trade protectionism and skepticism about multilateralism. According to The New York Times, “Traditional alliances were no longer as steadfast as they once were.” If true, this implies a more independent and robust role of Europe that shall take years to build. This may lead to a departure from Cold War thinking.
Across the Mediterranean, the euphoria of Trumps visit is already bubbling and bursting. Most Muslim countries are distancing themselves from the Saudi version of conflicts. Qatar, the Wahabi twin of KSA is critical of an anti-Iran alliance. It maintains relations with Iran and the non-Salafi Muslim Brotherhood and Afghan Taliban.
According to Bruce Riedel, this has created a most acrimonious split is in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which held its own private summit with President Trump. Privately, the Qatari Emir criticised the virulent rhetoric castigating Iran at the summit. To recover from a bad situation, he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election.
Bruce Riedel reports, that in response, the Saudis and Emirates blocked Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network. Also the Saudi Al-Shaykh family, that claims exclusivity to the descendants of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, issued an open letter denouncing the claim of an Emir of an Arab Kingdom (read Qatar) of being a descendent of this dynasty.
Most Muslim and non-Muslim countries attending what would have been an Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAT) went unprepared. Many enjoy good relations with Iran and are anti-sectarian. The anti-Iran rhetoric of the Saudi Royal family and President Trump caught them by surprise. Perhaps the most ill-prepared of the lot was Pakistan, that had already provided its retired military chief to lead the alliance and is also the most combat hardy and well-trained. The pressure within Pakistan against such an alliance may also have convinced the US-Saudi alliance not to give center stage to Pakistan. This explains why Pakistan’s Prime Minister was given no show time.
Consequently, in came President Sissi of Egypt, a Saudi and Israeli surrogate who had multiple meetings with President Trump. Readers must recall that differences within the Gulf Cooperation Council meetings did not make Sissi the automatic choice. If he does take over from the Pakistani general, cracks will appear in IMAT and countries like Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait may stay away.
Sooner or later, Russia and EU will move into these cracks. If this happens the world may be moving from a unipolar to a multipolar equilibrium amidst violence and human misery created by oil politics and sectarianism.