The Ukrainians, Russians and the rest of the world, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, are all watching the unfolding standoff and simmering tensions between the resurgent Vladimir Putin led Russia, which has upstaged US President Barack Obama on the world stage mainly over Syria; and Obama’s handling of the Ukrainian crisis, which is testing once again the resolve of the Obama administration. It is déjà vu all over again of crossing Obama’s red line.
As Russia seems to be poised to intervene militarily in the Crimea, in what Kiev described as an invasion and occupation by Moscow’s forces in a region with an ethnic Russian majority, Obama was forced to warn Putin on Friday against any military intervention in Ukraine. Interfax Agency, the Russian official news agency, lectured Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who warned that “Russia sending troops to Ukraine would be a grave mistake”, by stating “Russia believes that the United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice should urge her own country’s leadership, rather than Russia, to avoid use of force.”
The US’ handling of the Ukrainian crisis invokes in the minds of its Middle Eastern and Gulf allies and foes of how
Washington has handled host of crises in the region, especially the Syrian conflict and the Iranian nuclear programme.
What adds to the uncertainty of handling the Ukrainian crisis and before it the Syrian conflict, is what has become an Obama policy — a hands off approach bordering on indifference and lack of leadership, which encourage others to fill that vacuum at the expense of interest of the US and its allies.
This is how some of the US pundits view it. Charles Krauthammer opined in the Washington Post, last Friday, “What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. His evacuation from Iraq consigned that country to Iranian hegemony, just as Obama’s writing off Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to reverse the tide of battle. This is no dietary hygiene campaign. This is a message to Kiev: We can shut down your agricultural exports today, your natural gas supplies tomorrow. We can make you broke and we can make you freeze.”
Krauthammer concludes, “[US] Secretary of State John Kerry says Russian intervention would be a mistake. Alas, any such declaration from this administration carries the weight of a feather.”
For us, the US handling of the Ukrainian crisis is reminiscent to the US handling of many crises in the Middle East.
In retrospect, the US-GCC relationship has been witnessing and reaping the same lack of resolve.
I have documented over the last couple of years, the drift in the GCC-US strategic relationship in numerous columns in Gulf News. The divergence between the two allies is over many issues where the two strategic allies do not see eye-to-eye. Most GCC states led by Saudi Arabia differ with their strategic partner over critical issues; mainly over the charm offensive with Iran, why they were left in the dark, its end result and why it is limited to the nuclear issue and overlooks other critical dimensions, especially Iran’s expanding ballistic missiles and its meddling in GCC and other Arab countries’ affairs from Yemen to Lebanon and from Iraq to Syria.
The GCC states strongly disagree with the US over its indifference towards Syria’s festering crisis that threatens to throw the region into the black hole, and into a wider Sunni-Shiites sectarian war. Most of the GCC states are frustrated over the US’s wavering and noncommittal stand towards Egypt. Add to this list, the US’s inward looking, budget cuts, government shut down, and the reduction of the US armed forces to pre-Second World War levels as proposed at the end of February 2014 by the US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, and slashing the Pentagon budget. But the issue that causes many worries by the GCC states is the US’s growing increasingly less dependence on Gulf oil and energy resources due to fracking and shale gas and oil, and finally the US rebalancing or the US pivot to Asia.
The US dithering, noncommittal stances and the fear of abandonment do not instil confidence in the Obama administration’s dealing with the Middle Eastern crises and doing the right thing. On the contrary, the repeated US assurances by senior US officials about US commitments and staying the course, especially in the Gulf, don’t seem to carry much weight. What we see in Ukraine today confirms that and conjures bewilderment as we witness the cost of inaction and indifference by the Obama administration, spreading from Syria to Ukraine.
The US’ leadership is being tested and its allies and foes are once again following closely the handling of another unfolding crisis, as Washington did last summer after Bashar Al Assad crossed Obama’s red line when he gassed his own people with impunity.
This time, the US president was prudent enough, weighed his words and did not invoke any crossing of the red lines for Putin in Ukraine. Today, not only the Ukrainians have a stake in the US’ exercise of its leadership, to match its words by deeds, but also the rest of the world, and mainly the US allies.
It is no longer sufficient and constructive for Obama to express his “concerns” “of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine”. Or repeating his rhetoric, “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine…And “Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be “deeply destabilising.”
What if the Russians defy these warning shots in the Crimea? What are the consequences and the cost they will have to pay? Could they be deterred by the US? The world is watching with interest the unfolding events there. The US allies are following with keen interests the Ukrainian crisis and is its foes. All are interested and expect to see deeds and not only words, by the US!
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/docshayji