Earlier this week, President Barack Obama met with the heads of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh under strained circumstances. Concerns are widespread about the historic security alliance between the United States on the one hand and, on the other, Saudi Arabia and its key Gulf allies. Since the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States and the Gulf have worked together to guarantee the sea lanes through which the vast majority of the world’s energy resources travel, and maintain stability in the surrounding countries, which are the most volatile and conflict-ridden in the Arab world. This alliance has been mission-critical in staving off threats to these areas that date back to the early years of Iran’s Islamic revolution, when the Khomeini regime first began to attempt to destabilize and dominate the area.
But there are concerns that this historic alliance may be unraveling as the Obama administration pursues a “strategic rebalancing” in the region that would see the Tehran regime legitimized as a power broker in Gulf and broader Arab affairs. It has become increasingly clear that the recently signed Iranian nuclear deal is meant to advance that goal. These fraught political circumstances are further enervated by new moves in the United States to sue the Saudi government for an alleged role in the September 11 tragedy, which seems to be shifting American public attention away from Iran and toward the debate about the ideological roots and operational dimensions of Al Qaeda’s war on the United States and the American people. President Obama traveled to Riyadh and made further statements to attempt to assure the GCC that the alliance was solid. Whether the visit will achieve this objective remains to be seen.
Another significant presence among attendees at the summit was Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, both a staunch U.S. ally and perhaps the GCC’s closest ally in the Arab world. He gave a speech that received little attention in the West, but ought to: the king has a way of opening windows into a regional mindset that is sometimes difficult to perceive through others’ statements. He has also, in the past, proven to be an asset to both the United States and the GCC in mitigating tensions between the two.