Paul Pillar comments on U.S. attempts to “reassure” Gulf client states at the upcoming GCC summit at Camp David:
Although some coddling of the Gulf Arabs may be worth it if this helps reduce the chance that the Iran agreement will be killed in the U.S. Congress, it would be a mistake to extend new security guarantees or similar commitments that would risk entangling the United States more deeply in the Arabs’ own peculiar quarrels. Those quarrels involve religion, ethnicity, and intra-regional rivalries where the United States does not have an interest in taking sides, and that give rise to fights in which the United States does not have a dog.
The United States unfortunately has already gotten itself involved in a very local, very messy, and very multi-dimensional fight in Yemen—involvement that would be incomprehensible except as a kind of compensatory stroking of Saudi Arabia.
It is notable that U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen hasn’t reduced the Gulf clients’ whining in the least, nor has it caused hawkish critics of the nuclear deal to modify their complaints about the supposed “neglect” of those clients. At the same time that the U.S. is actively supporting the Gulf clients in their admittedly reckless and short-sighted war, the same clients and their boosters here in the U.S. are insisting that the U.S. needs to do more to demonstrate its support for them. In other words, the U.S. can go out of its way to “reassure” these governments that Washington is on their side and can indulge the Saudis in their most paranoid fears about growing Iranian influence, and it still isn’t enough to satisfy them.
That should tell us that the U.S. mostly needs to ignore its clients when they demand “reassurance” and should feel no obligation to support them when they pursue foolish policies. Since the U.S. usually gets no credit for its gestures of support from the clients or their boosters here in the U.S., it should stop making them unless U.S. interests actually require it. Foreign clients and their domestic supporters are always going to claim that the U.S. isn’t paying enough attention to them and isn’t doing enough for them, and as long as the U.S. indulges these complaints they will keep coming. It should be up to the clients to show Washington why they continue to merit the support they currently receive, and the burden should be on the clients to “reassure” the U.S. that they are worth keeping.