23.04.2016 Author: Martin Berger

Did Obama Really Enjoy his Farewell Tour?


Barack Obama has recently embarked on a farewell tour to say goodbye to his “friends”. That’s one way of summarizing three brief visits the US President paid to the most important allies of Washington – Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Germany. However, the years of Obama’s presidency have alienated those states, with all three having been vocal in criticizing the sitting US President,  perceiving the US as having failed them each respectively.

Today Saudi Arabia is deeply concerned about its economic and political future due to the policies imposed by Barack Obama. The US and Saudi Arabia enjoyed decades of strategic partnership and close allied relations that survived a number of Middle Eastern wars. The ties were damaged when the US embarked on the so-called Shale oil revolution which resulted in Riyadh perceiving a threat to global oil revenue distribution. Therefore, it dropped oil prices to make shale oil unprofitable, since the United States has been buying less oil from the region with every passing year. Therefore the Middle East, which has played a pivotal role in the energy security of the US, suddenly lost all importance to Washington.

The CNN would note that:

Te broad trade-off between access to Saudi oil in exchange for a US commitment to its security from external threats has broken down and even though the Obama administration has sold almost $ 95 billion in arms to the Saudis, on core issues such as Syria, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egypt and democratization in the region, there are major differences. The perception that the United States is withdrawing from the region, the Iranian nuclear deal and what must appear to the Saudis as US acquiescence in a rising Iran have combined to create a foundation of suspicion and mistrust.

Still, Washington is getting increasingly suspicious towards Saudi Wahhabism which has always enjoyed close ties with Sunni jihadists. Al-Qaeda developed out of Wahhabist doctrine and Saudi Arabia has been deeply involved in nurturing such extremists and funding different terrorist groups in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra . These facts have recently been confirmed by former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, who was entrusted with preparing the report on the infamous 9/11 attacks. The former US official has declared that the documents he was working with contained information on Saudi Arabia’s training of the terrorists that committed these horrendous attacks. Moreover, on April 18, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speech-Writing Ben Rhodes, announced that the creation of Al-Qaeda was sponsored by funds allocated by the Saudi government and Al Saud royal family members.

It’s hardly a surprise under these circumstances that Western journalists believe that such ties between Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda may still flourish, which is a deeply troubling development, to say the least. Therefore, it would only be logical if those members of the United States Congress that have voiced their intention to adopt a legal paper that would name Saudi Arabia responsible for 9/11 attacks would finally do so.

In response, Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir announced that should such a paper be adopted, Saudi Arabia will sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States to avoid the danger of them being frozen. It seems that Barack Obama knew perfectly well that he’s in no position to go to Saudi Arabia under such volatile conditions, therefore he made it explicitly clear that he would veto any law that would attempt to condemn Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, it was hardly a surprise when the “master and commander” of the “greatest superpower in history” was greeted on his arrival to Saudi Arabia by the American ambassador and a local governor! The US is clearly not accustomed to such humiliating treatment, except for Obama’s recent visit to Cuba, where the US President saw only the lone figure of an American ambassador waiting to greet him while he was descending form Air Force One.

The Guardian would note:

Mustafa Alani, a Gulf security analyst who is close to the Saudi establishment, said Obama would find a leadership “that’s not ready to believe him”. The decision not to send a high-level delegation to the airport was intended to signal that they have little faith in him. “The Saudis had disagreements with previous presidents,” Alani told the Associated Press. “Here you have deep distrust that the president will not deliver anything.

In fact, the US-Saudi alliance is a pretty unnatural thing: America has always been desperate to present itself as the defender of democracy while Saudi Arabia is perceived by many as the most totalitarian state in the world. Still, however imperfect Saudi policies seem to be, the United States still is in desperate need of friends in the region in order to pursue its interests. Saudi Arabia’s stability is still a top priority for the US interests. And Saudi Arabia with all its imperfections is still the key element in that. Moreover, Washington still needs those Wahhabis for intelligence sharing and operations against ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates.

As for the US military presence in Saudi Arabia, it has recently become insignificant. Prior to the 9/11 attacks the US had more than a dozen bases, in addition to a couple dozen Saudi bases where American military personnel were stationed. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, at the request of Riyadh the better part of the US military infrastructure, along with soldiers and command centers were transferred to Qatar and other countries of the region. This decision was explained by the fact that local extremists were extremely sensitive to the presence of “infidels” on sacred ground. Still, a small number of US military installations still remain in Saudi Arabia.

No matter what, Saudi Arabia will try to sustain its ties with Washington, since the United States is the only country that is capable of carrying out large-scale military operations, like Operation Desert Storm. European countries wouldn’t be able to lead a similar operation. Additionally, the German government is still reluctant to sell its Leopard main battle tank to Riyadh, despite years of negotiations. In addition, Saudi media sources have been drawing a lot of attention to the statement of Obama’s Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs Robert Malley who made it clear that Washington and the Gulf States have reached an agreement on a joint military operation against terrorist forces in the region and on the forthcoming supply of American weapons, including ballistic missile systems, to the Gulf States.

Yet, CNN would stress the fact that:

The Saudis are looking past Obama to the next administration and doubtless hoping for a different kind of President.

The painful fact is that the United States is stuck in a bad marriage with Saudi Arabia, where neither divorce nor reconciliation is likely. The same Middle East mess that estranged the two sides will likely also force them to cooperate. Indeed, despite what divides them it’s more than likely that for the foreseeable future the United States and Saudi Arabia will find a way to muddle through – cooperating where they can and agreeing to disagree where they must

However, Saudi Arabia is not the only one disappointed in this “relationship.” Similar sentiments prevail in the UK and Germany. Wiretapping of European politicians that Obama allowed is only aggravating mistrust between the EU and US. In addition, it’s been reported that personal relationships between Merkel and Obama have never been anywhere near friendly.

Obama’s words aimed at the three most important partners of the US bear no weight today and have been largely ignored. When in 2008, as the then presidential candidate, Obama came to Germany for the first time, hundreds of thousands of people welcomed him as if he were a superstar. Today, however, during his farewell visit, American allies tried to show that he’s not welcome anymore. However, it remains unclear whether Hillary Clinton, who is doing all that she can to reach the Oval Office, will be any more welcome if she finally arrives there.

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


Please select digest to download: