Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2013.11.11

Too Many Indians but No Chiefs

JBPress on November 08, 2013

It was October 18 when Saudi Arabia announced that it would give up a U.N. Security Council seat which it had just won, for the first time ever, the day before. It must have been quite a surprise for some Japanese, because the seat that the Saudis rejected was a non-permanent membership which Japan has longed for over the past 55 years, and been elected to ten times.

Why did the Saudis do that? "Allowing the ruling regime in Syria," the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement read, "to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands by idly, without applying deterrent sanctions against Damascus regime, is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities."

The statement also said that the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia believes that the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities towards preserving international peace and security." Any college student majoring in international politics must be puzzled by this.

Let us be very frank! These issues are nothing new to the international community and can by no means be the real cause for Saudi Arabia's escaping its international responsibility to assume the role of a non-permanent member at the United Nation's Security Council. If these are the true reasons, why did the Kingdom decide to run for the seat in the first place?

This is a clear expression, of course in a very Saudi way, of displeasure and anger at the recent Middle East policy of the U.S. In a nutshell, their concern seems to be that, there are too many Indians but no chiefs in American foreign policy. Although the average Japanese didn't even care, the implications of Riyadh's decision for Japan could be very significant for two reasons.

Firstly, because U.S. Middle East policy is closely related to the peace and security of East Asia. As I wrote before, the Middle East and East Asia are becoming a single theater of operations. Likewise, any tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States could undermine the stability of Japan's neighborhood in the long run.

Secondly, the U.S. defense commitment to Saudi Arabia and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) member states is essential not only for the survival of the GCC itself but also for that of American allies and friends in East Asia as well. This is simply because those East Asian countries, as well as China, are all heavily dependent on the crude oil the nations in the Gulf region produce.

The shortcomings of U.S. Middle East policy are everywhere.

In the Levant, the resumed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have not been making much progress. Ambassador Martin Indyk is trying to keep the negotiations as closed as possible in a very professional manner. However, no matter how good he is, the former Assistant Secretary of State is only in charge of the peace process and has no authority over other issues.

Likewise, on Syria, damage has been done and the Obama administration has already lost credibility. Although President Obama had said that Bashar al-Assad must resign, the political message now being sent to the world is that the U.S. would basically acquiesce to the continuation of the Assad regime, no matter what Secretary of State John Kerry says officially.

For Iran, which has the most pro-American people and the most anti-American regime in the world, the United States doesn't seem to have a valid strategy to effectively pressure Teheran to give up its nuclear weapon programs while giving the Iranian leaders and people enough incentives to change their attitude towards their nuclear energy programs.

Finally, in Egypt, it is business as usual. The military is back in power and once popular liberalism is being replaced by neo Arab nationalism, or a 21st century version of Nasserism, as if they were going back to the 1950s. Secretary Kerry visited Cairo on November 3 only to reconfirm that the United States could do nothing to change Egypt.

Although key officials in the U.S. government are skillfully handling day-to-day tactical business on each of these issues individually, nobody seems to be in charge of the whole strategy. Can President Obama break the tripartite cohabitation of hardliners in Jerusalem, Qom and Washington D.C.? Can a liberal President make a historical decision to embrace the mullahs in Teheran as President Nixon did with the Chinese communists in 1972?

There are too many Indians but no chiefs. If this is the Saudi's real concern about the Obama administration's foreign policy, so too is it a concern for U.S. allies and friends in East Asia.