Reactions in the Arab press to President Obama’s speech illustrate the difficulties of confronting ISIS in a region skeptical of American motives and doubtful of American resolve. Here are excerpts from some of the most prominent responses (as translated by our new intern).Writing for the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah (not to be confused with the Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera), Dr. Ali al-Qarni emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s desire to confront Bashar al-Assad as well as ISIS:
It’s important for this international alliance that is taking shape to consider the removal of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has and continues to support terrorist groups in the region. The objective of the alliance should not be to defeat ISIS in Iraq, and possibly Syria, and yet retain the status quo in Syria as it is now.
He is also skeptical about the level of Western commitment, saying:
“This is what we truly fear, that Western enterprises will always be incomplete. They removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, but they created states broken up between the people of a single country. We don’t want to repeat this scenario from before…and this is what we fear from this alliance: that the Arab states did not explicitly pose significant pressure on the international alliance for defining the goals that they seek.”
In London’s Al-Hayat, which is reprinted across the Arab world, Abdul Wahab Badrakhan, a Lebanese journalist, repeats fears, shared by some prominent figures on both sides of the aisle in Washington, that the ultimate beneficiary of U.S. intervention will be Iran. This concern flared after Revolutionary Guard leader Qassem Soleimani was photographed leading Iraqi forces into battle to relieve the besieged town of Amerli:
[T]he important thing is that this battle [in Amerli] has shown what might be, or rather, what Iran sees and wants from the upcoming war. It’s reassuring that the United States (and the presumed coalition countries) have repeated and continue to repeat that they are concerned only with the air war, the provision of weapons and logistical support, without participating in the fighting aspect. But the actual path of this war depends upon the ground campaign…and Iran is the only force on the ground: politically through [Iraq’s leading Shia coalition,] the Islamic Dawa Party, and militarily backing the Iraqi army, its war planning, and intelligence apparatus….Indeed, Iran is on the ground on the other front of the war, in Syria.
The Syrian state press featured rants about how the United States protects the “Zionist entity” of Israel, as well as screeds against the Gulf sheikdoms. But it did make at least one astute point about some of our Gulf allies in the war against ISIS:
“It’s comically ironic that the “international alliance” that Obama is working to create includes countries that support worldwide terrorism. This raises a lot of questions and doubts about the seriousness of their intentions in the fight against terrorism.”
It’s important to remember that, in the Middle East’s state-controlled media environment, what is not said is just as important as what is. In that context, note that the reaction in many papers was minimal. Today, however, Arab leaders backed American proposals at a summit in Jeddah, and media in those countries may have been waiting to receive the official stance of their governments before commenting.Even the friendlier parts of the Arab world right now embody the maxim that nations have no friends, but only interests.