The administration is desperately trying to “reassure” authoritarian clients in the Gulf, and all of its proposed ideas for doing so as awful. This is the worst of the possible options:
But instead of a full-fledged security treaty — like the one the United States has with Japan ensuring that America will come to Japan’s defense — the administration is discussing offering a looser, less-binding defense pact. In the deal envisioned, American officials would put in writing, but not send to Congress, language agreeing to the defense of Arab allies if they come under attack from outside forces.
So the U.S. is entertaining possibly extending security guarantees to another set of wealthy countries that doesn’t need them. That would represent a major increase in America’s overseas commitments, and it would be done without any real debate here in the U.S. This is coming from the same administration that is constantly being accused of “retreat” around the world. Unfortunately, these offers of increased U.S. support for the Gulf states appear to be an overreaction intended to disprove those accusations. The U.S. shouldn’t be making such a promise to the Gulf states, but more to the point it shouldn’t be responding to its clients’ complaints and the administration’s hawkish critics by offering these governments increased support. I don’t doubt that the clients are happy to get as much as they can, but it doesn’t follow that the U.S. should be providing them with whatever they want.
Making the Saudis and the UAE into “major non-NATO allies” would be a less dangerous mistake than the defense pact, but it would still be a move in the wrong direction. Current U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen shows that the U.S. is already too solicitous and supportive of these governments. If anything, Washington needs to be finding ways to reduce its backing for these clients, but at the very least it shouldn’t be increasing it. It certainly shouldn’t be giving them access to our most advanced weapons, and it shouldn’t be making it easier for them to acquire weapons from the U.S. That is what being granted “major non-NATO ally” status would do, and neither of these states should have that status. We can see that they are willing to use the weapons they receive to pummel a neighboring country on a flimsy pretext. The U.S. shouldn’t be encouraging or facilitating that.
The absurdity of all of this is that it is being done in response to the Gulf states’ “fears” about a nuclear deal that would restrict and monitor Iran’s nuclear program. As far as the Gulf states’ security is concerned, a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue is to their advantage. They shouldn’t need to be bought off with new offers of support, and the U.S. shouldn’t be going along with what amounts to extortion by its clients. Any additional support that the administration offers these governments will be a reward for their bad and reckless behavior, so we should expect more that behavior in the future. We can also expect that there will be ever-increasing demands for more support to “assuage” the bad clients’ “fears.”