The Saudis are so excited about U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit that they’ve created a website in four languages with a countdown clock and information about the various bilateral, pan-Arab, and pan-Islamic meetings that Trump will hold in the Kingdom.
Over the past few years, it has become commonplace for the political and military leadership in the Gulf States from Muscat to Riyadh to rail against U.S. policy under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. In the view of many of these leaders, it led to the meteoric rise of Iran, their arch-nemesis, and exacerbated regional turmoil. Since Trump’s election, the shift in attitudes across the region has been notable.
Gulf leaders deeply distrusted President Obama (the feeling was probably mutual), and they were pleased by the notion that pretty much any president after Obama would bring welcome change. That it was Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who won the election was icing on the cake, since the chances of starting anew, or as one Bahraini official put it privately, to “go back to basics,” would be much better with a Republican administration.
Whether the jubilation in the Gulf lasts will depend on what Trump accomplishes during his trip, which begins at the end of this week. Gulf officials appreciate Trump’s and his team’s aggressive rhetoric about Iran, but words won’t be enough to reassure them on vital matters of national security. What Trump offers in terms of concrete plans to counter Iran in conjunction with his regional partners will determine the visit’s success or failure and the duration of the honeymoon. One could make the case that the visit itself should be considered a success, but Gulf leaders are not looking for photo ops and handshakes. They mean serious business, and are eager to work on a joint agenda to combat shared threats and pursue strategic opportunities. A credible upgrade in security ties would keep the United States out
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