The election for the next US president in November 2008 will have far-ranging implications. This is particularly the case as far as the Middle East and especially the Gulf region is concerned. Nowhere is the US presence – militarily, politically and economically – more visible than in the volatile Gulf region and the role being played by the US in regional affairs is the most important factor when it comes to external involvement in Gulf matters.
The scope and depth of the US involvement is clearly evident. As of October 2008, over 200,000 American troops remain stationed in the Gulf with close to 140,000 on active duty in Iraq. The forces serve as both a stabilizing and destabilizing agent for the region, maintaining a certain balance of power and protecting US regional allies but also drawing the ire and resentment of those opposed to their presence. The issue is complicated by the fact that under the policies pursued by the George W. Bush administration, US policy has added to the uncertainty in the region. Overall, it can be argued that the US has become as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution. As such, how to balance the need for a military presence with the political prerogative of regional stability is a key question that an incoming US administration will have to grapple with.
The number of questions associated with the future direction of US Gulf policy is long and complicated. Much of the focus will be on the continued military presence in Iraq as well as on the potential for a confrontation with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. While a fourth major conflict in three decades would certainly have negative repercussions so would a situation where the region has to deal with a nuclear-capable Iran intent on spreading its hegemony to the neighboring states. Similarly, there are deep concerns from the Arab Gulf States as far as potential US-Iran negotiations are concerned that could culminate in a so-called ´grand ´bargain´ at the expense of the GCC countries. This concern is heightened due to the fact that a clear US commitment and policy line vis-à-vis the GCC states is not visible and the relations under the Bush administration has wavered between strategic closeness and inherent hostility over political reform and terrorist financing.
Beyond the political and military angle, there are a host of other issues that impact on the US-Gulf relationship including concerns over energy security, the role of the US dollar in Gulf financial markets, the overall position of the oil-producing states as a rising force in global financial affairs, and the impact of the global financial crisis on both the US and the regional economy. The new US administration taking over power in January 2009 will thus have to deal with many of the issues from day one and will have little time to engage in month-long deliberation campaigns designed to put forth a structured US policy approach to the Gulf region.
The GRC is firmly convinced that a thorough assessment and analysis of US Gulf policy is both warranted and required. The fact that a changing of the guard will occur in Washington offers a unique opportunity to look into both the successes and shortcomings of the Bush administration and to outline how successes can be continued and how policy mistakes can be corrected and overcome. Equally important will be the attempt to put forth a regional Gulf perspective and to impress upon US policy officials and specialists the kind of policy that the Arab Gulf states both seek and want to see implemented.
Objectives of the Gulf Forum 2009
· To undertake an assessment of the current status of US policy in the Gulf region and to look into the key components that define it.
· To highlight the position of the GCC states and to analyze in-depth their foreign and security-related policies.
· To explore practical realities and to look at the policy steps being implemented by the regional states.
· To begin to understand the kind of policy approaches that can be expected from the incoming US administration and to promote a regional point of view regarding these expected approaches
· To outline the parameters of a US policy in the Gulf region that balances the need for security and a US presence in the area with the prerogatives of internal stability and more cooperative set of regional relations.