Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is working hard these days to reassure jittery allies in Gulf that the US still has their back. Reuters reports that Hagel spoke to Gulf Arab leaders at a regional security conference, and his speech contained some striking language:
[Hagel] acknowledged Gulf leaders’ concerns about the direction of U.S. policy in the Middle East, especially negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. But he said the U.S. emphasis on diplomacy should not be misinterpreted.“We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum,” Hagel said. “Our success will continue to hinge on America’s military power, and the credibility of our assurances to our allies and partners in the Middle East.”
Hagel went on to list the ways the US is still militarily active in the region, including detailing the number of fighter jets and Navy vessels in the area. He is right about this continuing preponderance of US military in the region, but Sunni Arab Gulf rulers will not miss the unmistakable tenor of his remarks. The US is not taking sides in the thing they care most about: the Sunni-Shia religious war now convulsing the Middle East. In Syria and Bahrain, the US is more concerned about rules of the road than about Sunni victory—while longtime allies like Saudi Arabia are much more interested in defeating the Shia than in enforcing Marquis of Queensbury rules on their Sunni co-religionists.It does appear, though, that the shock, rage and horror from long time allies about the administration’s negotiations with Iran has concentrated some minds in the US government. The White House does not have total freedom to make any deal it likes with Iran and it will be interesting to see how that realization affects the future course of discussions between Washington and Tehran.