By Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS–US and John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US
Throughout 2012, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) approach to counter-terrorism and security focused on building operational ties to its strongest international partner, the United States.
The US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum (SCF) was launched in March of this year, bringing together the foreign ministers of the GCC states and top US officials. The aim is for both sides to strengthen and better coordinate their security efforts. While the GCC has a long relationship with the US, this high-level forum illustrates the continuing importance of the Gulf region to the US national security agenda.
How do you reduce the high levels of youth unemployment in the Arab world? On average one-quarter of the eligible under-24s in the region remain jobless, a factor widely recognised as having contributed to the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Many believe the Middle East faces further instability if the situation does not change soon.
An IISS-US panel this week discussed ways of creating more jobs for Arab youths in the post-revolutionary era. However, speakers said that new governments had often lacked the capacity to meet their young citizens’ high expectations, and frustrations remained. IISS senior fellow Alanoud Al-Sharekh added that the crisis in the eurozone was having a negative impact in some nearby North African countries.
By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs
The collective punditry has rendered a near-unanimous verdict on the presidential debate in Denver last night: Mitt Romney won it. Romney was sharp, engaged and composed – maybe a tad over-aggressive at times but clearly comfortable in his own skin. President Obama looked – to many of us, anyway – like he would have much preferred to be somewhere else.
This was no real surprise, except perhaps in the magnitude of Romney’s advantage. Despite many other flaws as a candidate, Romney had proved himself a strong debater against his Republican primary opponents. Set debates have never been Obama’s strength; he tends to behave like a professor in a seminar, rather than a debater prepared for battle.
How much it matters is another question. The narrative of September had been harsh for the Romney campaign. The Republican had a flat nominating convention; Obama’s was judged a resounding success (notwithstanding the president’s own rather flat acceptance speech). In the weeks that followed, Romney stumbled through a knee-jerk attack on the White House in the very hours that US diplomats were under attack and dying in the Middle East. Then surfaced the secretly recorded video of Romney telling wealthy supporters that
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what … who are dependent on government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Attacking almost half of Americans was unlikely to win him new supporters, and polling evidence shows that it didn’t. Moreover, though the margins have remained close, Romney had not pulled ahead in polling averages since the beginning of the year, a highly unusual problem for a challenger. In key swing states like Ohio, meanwhile, Obama has built what look like insurmountable leads.
Romney’s supporters will be heartened by last night’s performance, which may well resuscitate his campaign. Historical evidence speaks against turning a debate win into an electoral win, however. To take one of many examples: former vice president Walter Mondale was widely viewed as the winner against an apparently distracted Ronald Reagan in their first 1984 debate; Reagan went on to take 49 out of 50 states. (It is true that 73-year-old Reagan in a second debate delivered a decisive blow with the joke: ‘I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.’ But this only reinforced the truth that substantial mastery of issues in a formal debate is rather beside the point).
Romney’s apparent victory carried a certain irony insofar as he probably won this debate by abandoning a very substantial philosophical and policy debate that the 2012 presidential campaign has – against many expectations – actually provided. It concerns genuine and deep-seated disagreements about the relationship of state and society in the United States. Republicans have latched on to an Obama speech of some months ago in which he argued – echoing Harvard law professor and now Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren – that individuals’ economic success rests on a broader community effort. Businesses are possible because of the infrastructure, the education, the regulation and the social safety net that only government can provide. Such an argument only restated the consensus philosophy that emerged from FDR’s New Deal response to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Obama in this particular speech had slightly garbled the message – so he could be represented, tendentiously and out of context, as denying all credit to businessmen and -women for their own success. But leaving this misrepresentation aside, there remains a real philosophical divide. Conservatives seem genuinely offended by the (in historical terms rather mild) communitarian instincts of the president and his party. Romney’s ’47%’ riff was an extreme expression of this underlying belief that real freedom is a matter of economic freedom and economic success, and that both are threatened by Obama’s commitment to the welfare state and progressive taxation.
One reason that Romney won last night’s staged debate is that he left this underlying debate aside. It was the ‘Return of Massachusetts Mitt,’ as Jonathan Chait put it: a return of the former Governor’s at-least-temperamental moderation for which Obama and his team were arguably unprepared. Romney is still unlikely to win on 6 November, but if he does win it will be by successfully burying that larger debate – a debate that he was losing.
By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs
To my eyes, President Obama’s red line looks quite … red.
In front of the UN General Assembly yesterday, the president said the following:
And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
This is not new from the US President; last spring he started explicitly rejecting the idea that the United States could rely on a regime of containment against an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. I’m not sure it is correct that a nuclear-armed Iran couldn’t be contained, but it is pretty clearly the policy of the United States not to take the chance.
The security architecture of Latin American is inadequate to prevent further military escalation in the region, said Professor David Mares at the IISS-US launch of the Adelphi Book, Latin America and the Illusion of Peace. Mares, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego argued that Latin American nations must find different options for building a better architecture that would make the threat of force an unacceptable option and stress the necessity of Latin America as a zone of peace. He was joined at the launch by Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, who offered a more optimistic outlook for peace in the region.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s push for it, a Gulf union was a ‘non-starter’ in the near future, Professor
F. Gregory Gause said this week at the IISS-US. In a speech entitled ‘Prospects for a Gulf Cooperation Council Union’, Gause was doubtful that all Gulf states shared the Saudi king’s vision of a closer Arab world. Even a smaller union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was unlikely, Gause, the chair of political science at the University of Vermont, suggested.
Gause noted that the proposal for a Gulf Union and the invitation to extend GCC membership to Morocco and Jordan were personal initiatives of Saudi’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who saw the Arab Spring as both a domestic threat and as a regional risk because of the potential for Iranian influence.
Saudi Arabia was interested in preserving its leading status in the region and the king saw himself as ‘the last dam against the spread of Iranian influence in the Arab world’. Other GCC member states were more concerned with the ensuing loss of sovereignty concomitant with greater integration. These states did not see Iran as a geopolitical threat and were more concerned with their domestic political conditions following the Arab Spring.
Gause said that a GCC union would have been better received in early 2011, right after the Arab Spring, as the GCC states tended to put aside differences in the face of an external threat. However, when threat perceptions were low, there was a greater emphasis on sovereignty and less incentive for cooperation. This proposal for a GCC union was a ‘hiccup’ that was not indicative of a fundamental change in GCC relations, Gause claimed.
Gause also said a union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia would be highly controversial, facing opposition from Bahraini Shi’a and the Iranians.
Writing in Al-Monitor, Executive Director, IISS-US, and Corresponding Director, IISS-Middle East, Dr Andrew Parasiliti, examines the results of new opinion polls, which suggest that Barack Obama would win the national security debate against presidential hopeful Mitt Romney if elections were held today. While Afghanistan and Iraq are likely winners for the president and losers for Romney, Iran is still a toss up—and may prove to be the international issue that provokes the most consequential debate of the presidential campaign.
The Gulf States will play a more important role in Syria in the coming months, but their lack of knowledge of the Syrian opposition will prevent them from acting in unison. This was one of the messages to emerge from a talk by Middle East expert Emile Hokayem at IISS-US, which you can watch above.
Focusing on the Arab world’s perception of the Syrian uprising, Hokayem suggested that Gulf nations have few relations with important minorities in the country, such as the Kurds. He admitted there was an undeniable sectarian narrative on Syria in the Sunni-dominated Gulf States and that this had driven a Gulf media war against President Assad’s Alawite regime.
Each Gulf country ‘had their favourites’, he added. ‘If you’re Qatar, you’ve dealt for years with the Assad regime so you’ve developed relationships with senior businessmen’. They also ‘have good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood…but also with key independent opposition figures’. Saudi Arabia by contrast has closer links with tribes and former regime figures.