The unraveling of President Obama's foreign policy has been obvious for some time, but at no moment was it more obvious than Saudi Arabia declining to send King Salman to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) taking place at Camp David. If there were ever a signal the Saudis are not on board with the president's negotiation with Iran, this is it. The Camp David meeting is being organized with one goal in mind: Trying to convince Sunni allies that the agreement with Iran is in their best interest. This is an uphill struggle, perhaps an impossible one. As one Saudi scholar noted, referring to the U.S.: "[O]ur allies aren't listening to us, and this is what is making us extremely nervous."
Sunni Gulf states are convinced the impending P5+1 (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany) agreement will boost Iran's support for regional proxies like the Houthi in Yemen while providing a pathway for nuclear weapons. Of course, the fear is justified. Not only did Obama indicate there would be no way to stop Iranian acquisition of the bomb in 10 years, but he believes Iran can be a stabilizing force in the region. As one would guess, the Sunni Gulf States see it differently.
They are convinced this deal will embolden Tehran to act aggressively. In fact, Iran is regarded as the destabilizing force in the region. With the likelihood that sanctions will be lifted, Iran will have additional resources to pursue its imperial agenda. This explains, in part, why Saudi Arabia's former head of intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, noted: "I've always said that whatever comes out of these [nuclear] talks, we will want the same." Alas, the door to proliferation is open and all the assurances Obama will provide about the U.S. nuclear umbrella won't fly. Saudi distrust can be magnified throughout the region.
Obama is at the brink. If he backs out of the agreement, he repudiates the most significant initiative in his foreign policy. If he goes forward, he risks proliferation and the gamble a nuclear weapon will be employed. At this point, he hasn't any leverage with Iranian leaders, who realize the agreement is the president's legacy. And he has lost the confidence of most Sunni leaders, who do not believe he is acting in their interest.
In the backdrop, the Russian are smiling. Obama's hand is not only constrained, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has an opportunity to assert his interests in the Middle East. The Chinese are perplexed. Every Chinese official asked about the region thinks Obama has some sort of "secret plan"; they cannot accept incompetence or ideology as explanations for his bungling behavior.
Whether there is a plan or an ideology driving decisions, the president's moves are having a profound effect on the future of the region. Moreover, it is hard to see how anything positive emerges from the deliberations.
Some contend the president's successor can simply abrogate the deal, assuming it is finally introduced. That may be a facile assumption. Even an anticipated arrangement is precipitating changes, including nations scrambling to obtain nuclear weapons. Second, since the P5+1 represent the primary nations on the U.N. Security Council, the argument will be made that the moral weight of this body gives the agreement legitimacy. Third, the loss of confidence amid Middle East leaders is so great that no matter what a successor president says, it will be treated with trepidation.
Obama said during the course of his campaigns that he would "change" America. Alas, he has. In fact, he has changed the globe and in the process, all residents of planet Earth are in far more peril than they were before his presidency.
The Camp David discussions boil down to a sales pitch by the president to quondam allies. But, in fact, it will be a defense of the indefensible. As George Orwell said, "political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. ... [T]he great enemy of clear language is insincerity."