Monday, March 30, 2015

Is The Arab World Finally Stepping Up In its Own Defense?

There are two major news stories that have captured the headlines over the past several days: the downing of a commercial jetliner by its suicidal co-pilot and the looming deadline of the controversial US/Iran nuclear negotiations. Certainly these events are worthy of our attention. But there is another story that has surprisingly gone underreported by the fourth estate; a story that could have long term implications on the world stage.

Over the course of recent history the United States has played the role of the world’s “peacekeeper.” Nowhere is that role more evident than in the Middle East. Arab leaders have long complained publically about America’s intervention into Middle East affairs, but behind closed doors they are more than happy to have their reign secured by American arms and money.

Egypt’s Mubarak railed against American aggression yet accepted billions in US dollars to keep a lid on the region’s largest Muslim state. Afghanistan’s Karzai threatened almost daily to join hands with the Taliban while the CIA bribed him with green garbage bags full of cash. The US handed Iraq’s Maliki the reins of power along with a $125 million dollar fully trained and equipped army. Maliki responded by schmoosing with the Iranians as he showed the us the door. The Saudi Royals kiss our cheeks and gladly take our oil money and protection, yet sponsor splinter groups that fight against US interests.

The Obama administration has said repeatedly that the US will continue to work to secure peace within in the region: “But the only way that a lasting peace can be achieved is through an agreement put together by the Arab states themselves.”

For too long the United States has spent its blood and treasure to secure peace in the Middle East while Arab rulers lounge in opulence. But recently there have been signs that the regional Arab nations are starting to step up in their own defense.

Last week Saudi Arabia, concerned about the unrest along its southern border, engaged in air strikes against Iranian backed Houthi rebel strongholds in Yemen. And the Saudis have amassed over 150,000 troops along the Yemeni border. When is the last time you saw the Saudis weigh in with anything but their check book?

Egypt has stepped up as well…sending 10 warships south to the critical Yemeni coast to protect the flow of oil and commerce through the Red Sea.

Perhaps most striking of all is news that Arab League members have agreed in principle to form a joint inter-military peacekeeping force to deter the spread of Islamic extremism and Iranian power. The proposed 40,000 member standing army will be headquartered in Cairo or Riyadh.

Reports are that the Arab states are taking these actions because they have lost faith in the president’s commitment to the region…particularly as it pertains to the elephant in the room, Iran. Arab leaders have described the president’s Middle East policy as “flawed,” “confusing” and “disjointed.” The president’s critics here at home would agree. Who could blame them? After all the US is working with Iran in Iraq but against Iran in Yemen. It is working with Iran to stop ISIS in Syria but working against Iran to remove the Syrian regime. It is trying to keep Iran from gaining access to a nuclear bomb but by all accounts is working on an agreement that would allow Iran to keep at least part its nuclear processing infrastructure.

It appears on the surface that the Arab states are finally answering the call to take up in their own defense. Perhaps their actions are the result of the president’s “flawed, confusing and disjointed” policies. If that is the case then let’s hope for more “flawed, confusing and disjointed” communications out of the Obama White House.

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