The United States Has No Gulf Allies

The Importance of Language

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits his turn to speak as he and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir address reporters alongside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministerial meeting in Manama, Bahrain April 7, 2016. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The word “ally” is used far too casually in Washington’s Middle East lexicon. It’s time to break this bad habit, because the truth is that with the exception of Turkey—a NATO member—the United States does not share a single alliance with any Middle Eastern country. As the U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh approaches, understanding what really constitutes an alliance couldn’t be more important.

All this is not to say that the United States shouldn’t have alliances in the region. But the objective reality is that it doesn’t. That Washington so frequently mischaracterizes its bonds with Middle Eastern capitals does great disservice to them, to their own expectations from the United States, and to U.S. policies toward the region. It also unnecessarily aggravates nations with which the United States has real alliances.

In U.S. public policy debates, the words “partnership” and “

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