The Gulf region must act independently, take stock of the situation, and design future security arrangements, without leaving everything for the US to formulate, according to experts attending a workshop in Dubai on January 11 and 12.
Organized by the Gulf Research Center (GRC) to coincide with its fourth annual conference, the workshop – “Consequences of US Policy for the Gulf Region” – stressed that the US’s “strategic blunder” in Iraq required urgent mending if the region’s slide toward greater instability needs to be checked.
At the same time, the gathering storm over US’s insistence and Iran’s refusal to climb down on its nuclear program, as well as its rhetoric reflecting an “expansionist” design, was cited as a situation that was capable of going completely wrong without the rest of the region favoring it or having a role to play in it.
Many of the 75 experts from the region and outside felt that the problems of the United States in the region were self inflicted, and not the result of any single or collective conspiracy. Among the other reasons cited for instability in the region were the lack of US’s efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and inadequate planning while pushing for and inconsistent response to political modernization.
On the other hand, the participants also highlighted the lack of a common policy among the Gulf countries, which has made it difficult to design a regional and institutional security apparatus.
Expressing skepticism about the current scenario, some participants sought a “new regional security architecture that defines a mechanism to tackle threat perceptions” and pushed for the “elimination of international troops in the region”. Others favored incorporating “several international actors, especially from Europe and Asia, who could act as security guarantors of a regional security arrangement”.
The discussion also focused on why the United States never managed to shape the region the way it intended to, why the region has been unable to achieve political and economic unity, and why the invasion of Iraq has not yielded positive results.
Among the recommendations to correct the US course in the region were “pursuing fewer and specific objectives,” which would make prioritizing and tracking their performance easier; have a “proactive policy rather than adopt a reactionary approach”: devise “long-term plans, instead of aiming for short-term goals”; and “co-opt multiple partners as opposed to having unilateral or bilateral security arrangements.”
The US made errors in assessing the situation in Iraq, and did not pay enough attention to a post-war strategy and ignored warnings on sectarian divisions, the experts said. The new Washington policy recognizes some of the failures of the past, but is not good enough to bring about radical change, they added.
“The US withdrawal from the region will not increase stability in the region; the future of Iraq lies in the hands of Iraqis, aided by a constructive political, social, economic and military package over five-seven years. At the same time, the US and the international community must strengthen the state institutions and encourage a power sharing mechanism in Iraq,” the experts recommended.
The workshop concluded that the immediate threat to the region was the decline in respect for America because of the Iraq debacle, decline in the fear of the US, which was reflected in Iran’s approach, and a crisis of confidence in Washington’s capabilities to handle crises because of the failures in Iran and Iraq. “This scenario could force the US to regain ground by getting ‘adventurous’, resulting in another war in the region, apart from underscoring moderates and reformists.”