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Three Figures Made the Date in Jeddah

Three Figures Made the Date in Jeddah

Monday, 18 July, 2022 - 07:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

One day in Baghdad, I pondered the reasons why the United States decided to dissolve the Iraqi army. I didn’t find a convincing answer, neither from America’s opponents, nor from its allies.


Then President Jalal Talabani said: “The US is confusing and confused. But it is a major power, which when it sets its mind to it, can offer what others cannot.”


The truth is that the US often acts like a great boxer whose successive bouts have cost them their ability to listen to friends. The loss in the ability to listen often doubles the urge to dictate to others.


The boxer’s ability to commit mistakes is also coupled with the ability to admit to and rectify them, either through a change in US president or by the decision-makers reviewing their decisions. All of this, of course, is viewed from the lens of American interests.


The American story with the Middle East is long and complicated. Its interests there are vast, but its ability to understand its complexities is weaker than its ability to create shocks in it.


The US has often appeared weary of the Middle East, and the feeling is mutual. In recent years, successive American administrations did not hide the fact that the Middle East took a backseat in its agenda as it focused its attention in containing China’s rise.


Many in Washington believed that this part of the world is stuck in the trap of history, preoccupied with the wars of the past, reprisals, economic failures, despair and fear of change and only produces waves of conservatives, extremists and suicide bombers. The US almost quit the region, especially after its need for its oil dropped.


Arab and international summits over the decades taught us to limit our expectations, hopes and judgement. But the series of summits that took place on the sidelines of the Jeddah summit and the ensuing statements implied that the US has really reviewed its relations in the region and that it was rewriting its role in it.


The overall impression is reminiscent of Talabani’s statement in that the US can, when it decides to do so, offer what Europe, Russia and China cannot. It can offer advances in defense, the economy, technology, health, education and environment.


US President Joe Biden was clear in stressing that America decided to be a strategic partner to its allies and friends in the Middle East and that it was in no way ready to leave behind a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.


It seems that the US has concluded that the return to the Middle East and acknowledging the “error” of withdrawing from it helps it in its policies against China, Russia and Iran.


Obviously, the US president’s statements from Jeddah would not have been made were it not for the shock caused by the Russian war in Ukraine. Every reading of political, military, energy and food security developments in the world must be traced back to the shocks that were caused by the war.


One must also not forget the upcoming US midterm elections. Washington has concluded that the return to the Middle East helps it withstand and perhaps even contain those shocks and their negative impact and may help it wage the elections.


The American return to the Middle East would not have been possible had the Arab player themself not assumed their role in the region. The participation of the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq alongside the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at the summit gave the impression that the Arab forces of moderation were playing a greater role in securing their interests, and managing region’s affairs and its ties with the world.


Moderate countries are no longer accused of being stuck in the past and of being producers of extremists. They are no longer accused of failing in taking difficult decisions when it comes to progress, reform, modernization and joining the race towards the future.


The summit could not have been held – an in Jeddah in specific – were it not for the spark of renaissance lit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and that transformed the new Saudi Arabia into a prominent and responsible political, economic and energy player and a voice to be reckoned with on the international arena.


Along with the drive towards stability and prosperity, the Crown Prince launched efforts to clear the Gulf and Arab air, even extending a hand to neighboring Iran if it were prepared to meet under international law and the principle of good neighborliness.


The extraordinary reform process in Saudi Arabia was accompanied with similar experiences in countries that took part in the summit. This helped the Arab player return to the Middle East alongside the US. The moderate Arab countries notably also maintained relations with China and Russia, which certainly has not escaped American decision-makers.


The dialogue in Jeddah differed from others held in the past. The Saudi-American talks were frank, open and realistic over security, political and energy issues. It was the diplomacy of mutual interests, serious partnership and numbers. The American-Arab dialogue was also clear and frank. We can say that the conditions of the tango were available.


The US returned with a new approach and Arab moderation came to the summit with specific visions and knowing what it wants. The fruits of the open dialogue were evident. The Gulf-American statement expressed Washington’s clear return to its commitment to defend its allies and develop their defense capabilities to deter old and new dangers. It also announced a partnership to secure marine navigation in the strategic straits.


The Jeddah summit statement was also clear about the truce and peace in Yemen, commitment to the two-state solution, position towards Iran and policy of meddling and destabilization.


Will the Jeddah summits form a new turn in the developments in the region and Arab-American relations? Only the future will tell, but Washington’s concern over the Ukraine war and China’s rise leads us to believe that the implementation of the agreements is close to the maps that have been drawn up to handle several files.


Add to that rising western voices that warn that the West’s political and economic dominance was waning. Tony Blair was among them. He said: “The biggest geo-political change of this century will come from China not Russia.”


The outcomes of the Jeddah summits will be at the center of attention in capitals near and far. They will be closely examined in Beijing and Moscow. How will Tehran interpret America’s return to the region, the return of the Arab player and the new chapter in ties between Washington and moderate Arabs?


Three figures made the date in Jeddah. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Joe Biden, and of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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