There appears to be a small problem with President Barack Obama’s summit of Persian Gulf states taking place at Camp David on Thursday: Arab leaders want virtually nothing to do with it.
Only the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait, two out of the six leaders of countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will attend. The point man of the apparent snub is Saudi Arabian monarch King Salman, who took power in January after his brother, King Abdullah, died. Salman decided not to attend at the eleventh hour, despite Obama promising him a separate meeting, described by sources in Riyadh as a “photo op” aimed at convincing an American audience that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are on board with Obama’s determination to secure a deal with Iran. They aren’t.
Both sides tried to downplay the apparent rift. White House Secretary Josh Earnest insisted feedback from the Saudis has been “positive,” and that if this is an attempt to send a message “that message is not received.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir agreed. “This is not related in any way, shape or form to any disagreement between the two countries,” he said. “I think this idea that this is a snub because the king did not attend is really off base. This is an extremely high-level delegation. It has absolutely the right people to represent the kingdom,” he added, referring to interior minister Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and the king’s son and defense minister Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who will attend in the king’s place. Jubeir insisted the king was staying behind to deal with the cease fire in Yemen, and the humanitarian aid effort taking place there.
Other senior Arab officials involved in organizing the meeting were more straightforward, telling the Wall Street Journal there wasn’t enough progress being made in reconciling the differences between Obama and the Saudi monarch with regard to Iran and Syria to make the king’s visit worthwhile. “There isn’t substance for the summit,” said an Arab official who had spoken in recent days with the Obama administration..
Also staying away is Bahraini king Hamad bin Issa, who was aided by Saudi Arabia in snuffing out an Arab Spring revolution by that nation’s Shi’ite majority population; Sheik Khalifah of the United Arab Emirates, who was the first GCC leader to turn down Obama’s invitation only hours after it arrived; and Sultan Qabus of Oman, despite the reality the Omani government helped Obama arrange and host secret talks with the Iranian mullahs beginning in 2013.
Iranian-born author Amir Taheri minces no words when he explains the reasons for what he characterizes as a “boycott” of the summit. They center around the well known reality that the president of the United States is an unabashed narcissist “who genuinely believes he is always right, does not listen to anybody,” Taheri explains. This turns the Camp David meeting into an exercise “designed only as an occasion to admire Obama’s strategy and celebrate his ‘historic achievement’ in accepting Iran’s position as a ‘threshold nuclear power.’”
Taheri further insists Arab leaders already know what Obama is going to say, with one Arab official speaking on condition of anonymity offering up the president’s ultimate intention. “Obama made it clear he wanted an accord with Iran under any circumstances,” the official told Taheri.
The official further revealed Obama’s rationale, noting the president told him that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiators had “made concessions that no other government in Tehran would ever offer again.” Obama also assured the official he would make a “presidential statement” warning the world’s foremost sponsor of state terror not to threaten its Arab neighbors’ security and integrity.
Yet by far the most disturbing revelation offered up by this official has an equally disturbing familiar ring. He insisted Obama envisions a deal with Iran that would be constructed in a way that would not require the approval of Congress. Instead the president would submit a draft resolution to the United Nation’s Security Council whose five permanent members—the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain—comprise five of the six P5+1 nations (Germany is the other) who have put the deal with Iran together.
Considering the likelihood those very same nations would unanimously approve a deal they put together, it doesn’t get any more blatantly fixed than that.
Moreover, because of the way the recently passed Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 was constructed, even if the Senate does get to review the agreement, Obama’s chances of getting what he wants are exceedingly high. That’s because in a bipartisan effort aimed at bamboozling the public, the Constitution was kicked to the curb. The Constitution requires 67 Senate votes to approve an international agreement. The Corker Bill, as the agreement is more familiarly known, requires 67 votes to oppose a deal, because the president would be certain to veto anything that interferes with his self-aggrandizing “historical legacy,” and only a two-thirds vote of the Senate can override a veto. National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explains the critical difference in what amounts to boob bait for the masses. “Under the Constitution, Obama’s Iran deal would not have a prayer. Under the Corker bill, it would sail through. And once again, it would be Republicans first ensuring that self-destruction is imposed on us, then striking the pose of dogged opponents by casting futile nay votes,” he writes.
In short, Gulf leaders who have snubbed the administration are demonstrating more character than the United States Senate.
Their reticence also undermines the Obama administration’s other narrative with regard to an Iranian deal, which is the pernicious notion that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the only regional leader opposed to a rapprochement with Tehran. Netanyahu has long insisted a deal leaves far too much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, and gives it quick relief from economic sanctions. Without elaborating, Netanyahu now claims moderate Sunni Arab countries see “eye to eye” with Israel.
Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, believes those nations have similar concerns. “I don’t think they have a deep respect, a deep trust for Obama and his promises,“ he said. “There is a fundamental difference between his vision of post-nuclear-deal Iran and their vision. They think Iran is a destabilizing force and will remain so, probably even more, if the sanctions are lifted. … They’re just not seeing things eye to eye.”
Why should they? Both the inspections regimen and the notion that sanctions can be “snapped back,” as Obama likes to say, are farcical presumptions. As columnist Charles Krauthammer so deftly explains, the discovery of any violations would first have to be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and reported to the UN, where Iran would have the right to challenge those allegations. After that the dispute would move to the Security Council “where China, Russia and sundry anti-Western countries will act as Iran’s lawyers,” he explains, further noting the process could take months, “after which there is no guarantee that China and Russia will ratify the finding anyway.”
As for the snapback sanctions, Krauthammer notes it took “a decade to weave China, Russia and the Europeans into the current sanctions infrastructure. Once gone, it doesn’t snap back. None will pull their companies out of a thriving, post-sanctions Iran,” or “we will be fought every step of the way, leaving the United States, not Iran, isolated,” he writes.
Toss in a couple of other inconvenient realities, such as Iran’s ongoing support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, putting them in a proxy conflict with the Saudis, and the Iranian seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz — after attempting to encircle a U.S.-flagged cargo ship in the Persian Gulf the week before — and it becomes clear the president’s notion that Iran will see the error of its ways is as preposterous as anything he’s proposed.
“Obama is banking on the assumption that giving Iran everything it wants may help change its behavior,” the aforementioned Arab official told Taheri. “He may be right. We think he is wrong.”
In short, the summit at Camp David will amount to nothing more than political posturing, led by a president who appears to believe, much like most equally naive progressives, that symbolism and substance are interchangeable concepts. The summit will produce plenty of the former, but precious little—if any—of the latter.