Home Contact Us  

US & South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5026, 10 May 2016

Spotlight West Asia

West Asia, US, and Obama’s Statesman-like Legacy
Ranjit Gupta
Distinguished Fellow, IPCS, former Indian Ambassador to Yemen and Oman, and former Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), India

The US has been the main architect and central pole of the West Asian security landscape since World War II. It has sought to maintain security through a web of bilateral and regional military alliances and militaristic solutions to political problems and issues – including direct military interventions of its own. The US’ unconditional patronage and protection of authoritarian Arab regimes has acted as a major disincentive to domestic economic, political or social reform. This pervasive American dominance and the abject subservience of the rulers of Arab countries to the West has been a major factor in the growing public anger and frustrations among the Arabs at large.

The standout hallmarks of the US’ past policies in West Asia – the unconditional patronage of and support to Israel; the fallout of the exceedingly shortsighted creation of the modern jihad in Afghanistan; the demonisation and sanctioning of Iran for decades; the utterly and completely unjustified invasion of Iraq; and the even more foolish wholesale disbanding of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s army and government, have been major contributors to the rise of phenomena such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in addition to the hugely destructive and rampaging spread of militant Islamist extremism throughout the Arab world.

The surge of hope and optimism that swept through the Arab world in the winter of 2010-11 – which swiftly felled two longstanding dictators – was subsequently brutally suppressed by autocratic rulers and compounded by self-serving foreign intervention, plunging the Arab world into the worst ever period in its long blood-soaked history.

US President Barack Obama had vociferously opposed the war in Iraq and sought election on a platform of withdrawing US troops from West Asia and Muslim countries. Despite intense domestic criticism and excoriation from allies – both European and Arab, particularly trenchantly from Saudi Arabia – and from all prominent figures within his own administration, to his great credit, Obama has had both: the intellectual perspicacity to recognise the hugely negative consequences of past US policies, as well as the political courage to refuse to get militarily involved in new military interventions in West Asia, even going to the extent of effectively reneging on a red line he himself had laid down.

In that context, Obama said “I’m very proud of this moment,” Jeffrey Goldberg quotes, in his April 2016 article in The Atlantic, ‘The Obama Doctrine’ – a must read on Obama’s West Asia policy. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make....any thoughtful president would hesitate about making a renewed commitment in the exact same region of the world with some of the exact same dynamics and the same probability of an unsatisfactory outcome…..What I think is not smart is the idea that every time there is a problem, we send in our military to impose order. We just can’t do that,” Obama added.

His prescription for regional security is clear: “[The Saudis] need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes … and institute some sort of cold peace.” Obama believes that leaders in West Asia are “failing to provide prosperity and opportunity for their people” and that they need to “do more to eliminate the threat of violent fundamentalism.” Obama has had doubts regarding the value of the Washington-Riyadh alliance from before he became president. April 2016 saw his fourth visit to Riyadh, but the deep chasm that has developed between the two countries remained – there was no strategic congruence about Syria or Iran.

Had the US intervened in Syria, the nuclear negotiations with Iran would not have taken place. Obama reaching out to Iran and the nuclear deal are testaments of a particularly statesman-like and visionary approach that he has also exhibited vis-à-vis Myanmar and Cuba. Historians will judge him positively for his transforming US policy approaches towards and in West Asia.

Washington refraining from military interventions in West Asia is the first absolutely indispensable step that is necessary for new approaches to conflict resolution in that region. The most immediate consequence has been that Riyadh’s traditional calibrated, cautious, circumspect foreign policy has been jettisoned and replaced by completely uncharacteristic reckless assertiveness in Syria and particularly, in Yemen. Despite Turkey’s even more aggressive stance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, they cannot militarily defeat and overthrow him; and if Assad has to go, it will only be via a negotiated settlement with Russia and Iran being on board.

Saudi Arabia cannot militarily trump Iranian influence and power in West Asia even in tandem with other Sunni powers such as Turkey and Egypt; and although bloodletting is likely to continue for some more time, ultimately, Riyadh will have to talk and negotiate a modus vivendi with Tehran, even if it is likely to take time and increasingly rising costs for this realisation to finally sink in.

History will give Obama great credit for forcing this to happen, ultimately.

[See ‘Saudi Arabia and Evolving Regional Strategic Dynamics’, IPCS Commentary #4843, 2 March 2015, and ‘King Salman: The Boldest Ever Saudi Monarch?’ IPCS Commentary #4868, 5 May 2015]

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Unpacking the Unprecedented Churning in Saudi Arabia

India-West Asia: With Relations Boosted, Consolidation Must Follow

India-UAE: An Emerging Special Relationship

West Asia Six Years After the ‘Arab Spring’: Prognosis for 2017

Trump and West Asia: Reading the Tea Leaves

Battle for Mosul: Prospects for the Immediate Future

The Battle for Aleppo and the Imminent Regional Shifts

Will the US-Russia Deal on Syria Hold?

Russia: The New and Unexpected Power Broker in West Asia

Countering IS: Should India be More Assertively Involved in West Asia?

Iran, India and Chabahar: Recalling the Broader Context

Modi in Saudi Arabia: Consolidating Ties in West Asia

Current Syrian Peace Processes Sterile: A New Approach Needed

Forecast 2016: West Asia

Turkey's Ambitions and the War in Syria

Potential Implications of Russia’s Military Involvement in Syria

Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*

A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?

US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance

King Salman: The Boldest Ever Saudi Monarch?

Yemen: Why the Current Strife will Continue

Saudi Arabia and Evolving Regional Strategic Dynamics

New Leadership Lineup in Saudi Arabia: Reading the Tea Leaves

IPCS Forecast: West Asia in 2015

Rise of the Islamic State: Implications for the Arab World

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.