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Opinion: Does Obama Understand “Sunni Arabs”? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Global Health Security Agenda Summit, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) in Washington DC, USA, on September 26, 2014. (EPA/Michael Reynolds)

What invaluable gifts US President Barack Obama has bestowed on Iran! Has the “axis of evil” collapsed to the extent that the president of the world’s most powerful country is courting one of its key members? Not only did Obama crown his two terms in office with a “historic” vague deal with Iran, but he gave Tehran a free hand in Iraq, turning a blind eye to the activities of the Popular Mobilization forces that operate under the command of Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani. Not only has he turned over a new leaf with Tehran, he is even issuing statements on its behalf, going so far as to tell “Sunni Arabs” that Tehran does not pose a threat to them and instead telling them to focus on “real internal threats” according to a New York Times interview. What is strange about the interview is Obama’s frequent use of terms like “Sunni Arabs” and “Sunni countries.” These are expressions that betray sectarian over-simplification; while he refers to whole states as being “Sunni,” Obama falls short of describing Iran as a Shi’ite country. I wonder what other surprises Mr. Obama has up his sleeve.

It was Washington that labelled Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” and a country that sponsors terrorism. It was Washington that warned the world against dealing with Iran, imposing economic sanctions on Tehran and regarding it as an arch enemy. So, after all this, how can the US president now come out to say that Iran no longer poses a threat to its neighbors? Does the signing of a nuclear framework deal negate this threat? Does Obama expect the Gulf—which has long suffered from Iran’s interventions and sponsorship of terrorism—to simply believe his efforts to improve the image of Tehran? Isn’t this the same Tehran that has posed a clear and present danger to Gulf states for the past 36 years?

If only Obama had not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize during the early days of his first term in office. Ever since he received that award, the US president has been confusing things to the extent that he has shifted the concepts of peace and war. And now after the nuclear deal with Iran, neither Obama’s deeds nor actions have been reassuring to the Gulf states. Instead, he is adopting Iran’s claims that it does not pose a threat to them. In fact, the shift in Obama’s concepts of war and peace is not just concerning to the Gulf—or those the US president calls “Sunni Arabs”—but even US Republications are worried by this. A Reuters Ipsos survey has shown that one third of Republicans believe that Obama represents a greater threat to the US than Russian President Vladimir Putin or Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. If his own countrymen do not trust him or his policies, how can others?

The US administration has made a major diplomatic mistake when, during the talks with Iran, it sent an indirect message that it is incapable of waging war against Tehran over its nuclear program. If only Washington merely signed a deal with Iran! Instead, Washington has thrown the ball into the Gulf’s court, calling on them not to worry about Iran. One thing Mr. Obama has not done yet is present himself as a go-between for his Gulf “allies” and his friends in Tehran.

Mr. President, no one denies there there are challenges within Gulf societies that deserve to be addressed by their governments lest they escalate further. Everyone in the Gulf—governments and people—agree on this. However, exaggerating those challenges to the degree of characterizing them as “[public] discontent” and claiming that this represents a greater threat than Iran’s regional policy is an argument unworthy of the leader of the world’s most powerful country.