I am currently travelling around the United States (US) after spending a very enlightening few days in Washington DC where I was privileged to address delegates attending the 25th Annual Arab-US Policymakers Conference for the second year running.
This year, the event was titled “The next US presidency and US-Arab relations, probabilities, possibilities, potential pitfalls”. Needless to say, the American capital is abuzz with speculation as to who will take the prize on 8 November.
I appreciate the opportunity to feel the pulse of the electorate up close and personal and also to exchange views with high profile individuals with close links to the Barack Obama administration and its former secretary of state .
Like almost everyone I spoke with, I believed that the contest was virtually over in light of the scandalous accusations surrounding her rival. However, subsequent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) reopening of its investigation into Clinton’s private server, the race is turning out to be a nail biter.
Nationwide polls now give Clinton a two per cent lead but as Britons who voted whether to stay or quit the European Union (EU) can attest, polls are often unreliable indicators. Moreover, the deciding factor has little to do with poll ratings. Indicating preferences to pollsters is one thing, which candidate’s supporters will be more inclined to vote with their feet quite another.
I have no intention of attempting to influence the will of the American people so close to the big day, and, in any case, I have made my personal preference clear in previous columns. I can only trust that our American friends choose wisely because not only are they voting for a president, they are also responsible for selecting the most influential person on the planet with the power to make war and peace.
Who the next incumbent of the oval office will be and what he or she will do is not only of concern to Americans but has the potential of impacting us all in different ways.
As you know, my part of the world is undergoing one of the most tumultuous eras in living history. Unfortunately, Obama failed to live up to his early promise to the extent that senior members of the Nobel committee regret their decision to award him the coveted Nobel peace prize.
I do not wish to rehash his laundry list of bad judgments, which have contributed to making the region more dangerous than ever; they are well known. Yet, it is incontestable that on his watch, parts of the Middle East have descended into chaos and bloodshed. Worse, he has abandoned America’s tried and true allies in favour of its number one enemy that is recognised as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism.
Obama will soon be packing his bags. It is time to look to the future and in that regard, I would urge his successor to make every effort to fix what successive administrations have either wilfully or unintentionally broken. To that end, here are a few of my own pointers, which are by no means a definitive indicator of the mammoth job at hand.
Iraq is a basket case and has been ever since George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of that stricken country, compounded by his dismantling of the Iraqi army that bore Islamic State (IS) and his support of corrupt, sectarian, pro-Iranian governments under the orders of Tehran. Handing this most important Arab country to Iran was America’s biggest crime, which should be rectified so that oppressed Sunnis and minorities can reclaim their Iraqi identity.
The Bush administration introduced the current political system falsely, describing it as “democratic” and now America has a moral obligation to bring the Iraqi people, all of them, the freedom they were promised in those heady days when they celebrated dipping their fingers in purple ink.
Obama’s devilish deal with Iran has resulted in a geopolitical game changer. Enriched, empowered, and legitimised, Iran has emerged as a menacing entity threatening not only Israel but also America’s closest Arab allies including those within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The ayatollahs’ ambition is to place as many Arab countries under their boot as they can; Lebanon is one, Iraq is another, a third is Syria, and if not for the resolve of Saudi Arabia, there’s a good chance that Yemen would have fallen under their sway. Their ultimate goal is to occupy Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.
I would implore the coming Leader of the Free World to cancel the nuclear deal that solely benefits Iran, emphasise that any sign of nuclear weapons activity would incur grave repercussions, and re-establish anti-Iranian sanctions until such time as a new regime emerges, one that is sincere in its wish to rejoin the international community and shows respect to its neighbours in both words and deeds.
It is my fervent hope that whoever takes the White House will understand that Lebanon has morphed into an Iranian satellite ruled by Iran’s armed proxy Hezbollah. Former US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel confirmed that American funding of the Lebanese army ends up in Hezbollah’s hands, so I would respectfully request that US military aid to Lebanon be severed.
The situation in Syria is the most heartbreaking of all. Obama did not cause it but he has been ineffective in saving the Syrian people from regime bombs, shells, and chemical attacks, and he stood aside while president Vladimir Putin went into action to preserve the dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s tenure. God willing, the next president will have the courage to stand up to Russia, impose no-fly zones, create safe zones, and then initiate a worldwide fund dedicated to Syria’s reconstruction.
Syrians never imagined that one day they would be refugees. They had homes, businesses, and careers. They are doctors, engineers, artists, and farmers. They are unwanted in Europe. They should not be offered citizenship, but rather a secure place to stay temporarily until they can return home and begin the rebuilding process. They are a proud people with a great love of their country and I am certain this is what they want most of all.
Last but not least on my wish list is for a US president to appreciate America’s oldest and most loyal friends, namely Saudi Arabia and Arabian Gulf states and to deal with them honestly and transparently.
I realise the above constitutes a tall order. But provided the president shows the right will and takes advice from genuine Middle East experts rather than amateurs or yes-men, putting the region on a better footing can be achieved over time. Re-establishing trust, eroded during the Obama years, is a crucial first step.
Kalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group. Al Habtoor Group is a Dubai based cooperation with extensive business interests in the region and worldwide, including: hospitality, education, automotive and real estate.