“Peanuts” fans well remember a recurring Fall theme in the Charles Schulz comic strip: Lucy holding a football on the ground for Charlie Brown to kick, only to remove it at the last second. Each season, Lucy repeatedly assured Charlie “this time” would be different. A gullible Charlie repeatedly put his faith in Lucy, but readers did not. They knew she had no compunction about lying.
On Thursday, leaders of the Gulf nations will meet with President Obama at Camp David to discuss concerns about Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal and what assurances he will give to protect them.
These leaders will enter the meeting knowing Obama suffers from the “Lucy Syndrome”— he, too, has no compunction about lying to seal a deal with Tehran. They have seen him lie to the American people who were promised Iran would never have nukes, yet now proffers a deal in which it can.
It will be interesting to see how things play out at this summit—and whether a silver-tongued Obama will prove capable of talking these leaders into subordinating their national security interests to his fleeting promises.
It took the U.S. decades to rebuild credibility it lost by abandoning an ally in the Vietnam war. Six years with Obama in office has seen that credibility destroyed again as he welded together a foreign policy that abandons allies and shies away from declared redlines.
For the remaining twenty months Obama has in office, our enemies will seek to take advantage of his incompetence. But will the Gulf leaders be taken in by it as well?
They have seen Obama jettison a 30+ year ally in Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak; embrace a long-time anti-U.S. group, the Muslim Brotherhood, even after it was outlawed by stalwart allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia; downplay an Iranian nuclear threat while promoting an increased regional role for Tehran’s hate-filled mullahs; declare “red lines,” as he did with Syria’s use of chemical weapons, only to back away after the fact; etc.
The Gulf leaders lack confidence in Obama and, frankly, who can blame them? Obama called for this summit a month ago, but now only two of six top leaders invited will attend. This illustrates how deep this lack of confidence in him runs. They see Obama incapable of giving them the assurances needed to allay their fears about Iranian mullahs gone wild.
The only reason lower-tier representatives will attend is the Gulf states’ dependence upon the U.S. for all their defense needs. But they now know they must now seek out alternatives as Obama seeks to provide their regional adversary, Iran, with the tools with which to threaten them.
The Gulf leaders are baffled by how Obama can be so committed to a nuclear deal with Tehran in the face of the mullahs’ outrageous and aggressive behavior manifesting itself on their very borders.
Of concern too is Obama’s willingness to release funds to Tehran—in the form of a $50 billion “signing bonus”—which will only further feed Iranian aggression in the region.
The White House fails to see low-level Gulf state participation as a snub. Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggests if that was the message, it “was not received.” Of course, an Obama Administration blind to the Iranian threat could not be expected to get this message either.
Ironically, Obama’s enticement to summit attendees is they will benefit from a deal if Iran is prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons— an accomplishment Obama’s own fact sheet on the deal reveals has not been achieved.
Karim Sadjadpour—Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Iran expert—perhaps best describes perceptions in the region: “the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are friends but not allies, while the U.S. and Iran are allies but not friends.”
Summit attendees will seek what assurances they can Obama will not abandon them.
The UAE ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al-Otaiba, said, while “in the past we have survived with a gentlemen’s agreement with the United States about security, today we need something in writing. We need something institutionalized.”
Even that, however, should not give Gulf leaders a “warm and fuzzy” feeling. The Marshall Islands have such an agreement which proved worthless last month as the U.S. claimed it had no obligation to assist when one of that country’s flagged vessels was seized by Iran.
If the President has any intention of reassuring the Gulf states he is committed to them, he needs to embrace the Middle East policy of a former U.S. president also famous for his failed foreign policies.
It was only after Jimmy Carter had lost Iran to the dark side that a secret memo from National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski declared the “Carter Doctrine.” Recognizing the U.S. had a vital security interest in maintaining a stable Persian Gulf— including military action when necessary— Brzezinski wrote, based on the realities of that regional neighborhood, a U.S. commitment could not be formalized but had to be kept flexible.
Although Obama did suggest the commitment was alive and well during a 2013 speech at the U.N., he prefaced it on “external” threats— giving him wiggle room as to what qualifies. That, plus his penchant for inaction over action, leaves Gulf states leaders in a quandary as to what to ask for.
This is exactly why one unnamed Arab official has noted, “There isn’t substance for the summit.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry promises fleshing out “a series of new commitments that will create…a new security understanding…that will take us beyond anything that we have had before.”
Obama will have his work cut out for him at the summit getting Gulf state leaders to ignore his arming of Iran with nukes while disarming these states of their national security interests.
It will entail putting his Lucy Syndrome skills to the ultimate test.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.