While many aspects of President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy beliefs were murky on the campaign trail, one overarching theme stood out: that the United States has done far too much to underwrite free-riding allies the world over.
“Our allies must contribute toward the financial, political and human costs of our tremendous security burden,” Trump declared in April. “They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us.”
This problem, which has been echoed by President Barack Obama, is most acute in the Middle East, where US regional allies have overseen regional collapse and the rise of violent insurgent groups all the while doing little to share the burden of providing regional security.
In the fight against the Islamic State (IS), for example, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have reportedly “vanished from the campaign,” even though they have supported Syrian rebels and, as Sunni monarchies, are more threatened by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of IS than other regional states. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection … I don’t think it would be around,” said Trump.
Coupled with Trump’s desire for regional allies to do more to provide for their security is an explicit understanding he has that US military intervention in the Middle East has achieved little and comes at far too great a cost. “We’ve been fighting this war for 15 years,” he told “60 Minutes” Nov. 13. “We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice.”
Recently, I attended the Third Annual Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, where hundreds of regional Arab participants claimed that Iran is bent on regional hegemony and interferes in the affairs of Arab countries. Additionally, they blamed the United States for attacking Afghanistan and Iraq and handing the region to Iran.
As the only Iranian at the conference, I reminded them that the US war on terror was triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, which was carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was for years also a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ally, which supported him throughout the brutal eight-year Iran-Iraq War.