In the interviews, Obama said the U.S. would continue to protect Gulf Arab states from external aggression but would have a “difficult conversation” with its partners about the need to accommodate domestic political dissent, particularly from disenfranchised Shiite Muslim communities. Gulf monarchies often charge that Iran, which is a Shiite theocracy, has fomented unrest over Shiite populations.
At a certain point – and clearly, it’s been reached – Salman doesn’t intend to try to bridge this gap by accommodating the Obama administration. He’s not going to be a prop for Obama’s campaign to gloss over Iran’s regional aggression and get something – anything, no matter how bad – signed with Tehran.
It’s not just that there’s no point in Salman coming to the summit, when it offers no prospect of a meaningful joint statement, or even substantive concurrence on anything. Salman’s mere presence would send the wrong signal. Why should he sit still for being lectured by Obama about internal dissent, when Iran is, in fact, providing arms to Shia militias in his neighbors’ territories (in both Yemen and Iraq)?
The Emir of Bahrain, who backed out of Obama’s summit shortly after Salman did, would ask the same thing. Although there is legitimate Shia dissent in Bahrain, it’s also legitimately the case that Iran foments unrest there through Shia organizations.
The precedent-busting GCC visit of Francois Hollande is an indicator that the world is moving on from American leadership. The process has already started.
Never fear: neither France nor any other nation can do what American once did. But that only means that no one will be doing it. As I argued a month ago, the world is more wide open now – more vulnerable to predation, sudden moves, and chaos – than it has been in at least 600 years. The toothlessness of a UN without American leadership will shortly be evident to all. History will be digging deep in the coming days. And we can expect Obama to have more and more trouble getting people to attend his summits.