Future Direction for US Gulf policy


As a journalist I respond better to questions so I hope we will have a discussion  rather than me lecturing to you at lenght. I have written two books. One was a biography of Saddam  Husain which was written in 1990. It was published in 1991. Essentially I wrote it because I had done a reasonable amount of work on Iraq in the 1980s. I was the author for several years of the Economist Intelligence Unit quarterly report on Iraq and when Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990 one either had to dosomething about it or shut up. So I decided to do something about it and I wrote a book. All books are difficult to write. First books are even more difficult to write because they are almost impossible to get published. It is a reasonable first book and it is still valid. I am not saying it is the most complete book written about him and I would be richer person if we had managed to get it completed before the liberation of Kuwait. I am pleased to say Kuwait was liberated before I managed to finish it.
     The other book I have written was a study of the Saudi royal family which is After King Fahd’s succession in Saudi Arabia. I call it a book. It is really a monography but it is thick enough to have a spine to it. I wrote
it as a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and
for several years after that it was the best selling monograph that the
institute produced. That record has now gone to a monograph somebody wrote
about the Arab media, probably because that monograph was brought up for
college course work. Mine never quite got into that category.

   Writing about Saudi Arabia is a very interesting thing to do because the
Saudis endlessly discuss succession. They don’t like to write it down and
they don’t like anybody else writing it down. My target audience was policy
makers in Washington and they don’t look at anything unless it is written
down, so it can get you into very deep trouble very quickly.

   After I wrote it Khalid bin Sultan put a private detective onto me which
is an interesting experience because you don’t know it is happening until
somebody tells you its happening. The only person who told me it was
happening was a person who had previously worked for the CIA and was
retired.  I interviewed him for the book. I thought that was a very decent
thing for him to do. You hear a lot about the CIA and when you are hearing a
lot about the CIA please remember that there are one or two decent
characters in it who will warn you of things which are going wrong in your

  When I wrote the book Khalid bin Sultan might have been annoyed about it
because I dismissed him as being a likely successor or of  ever becoming
king in Saudi Arabia. I suggested he had been too greedy during the  Gulf
War and had made between $4 – 7 billion out of the commissions.

    I had been given the figure of 7 billion by one character who had a sir
in front of his name and was a fairly good authority on the subject. I asked
another character who also had a sir in front of his name what his figure
was. I had heard via somebody else that he thought the figure was $3 billion
but when I put this to  him he said 300 million, three billion what is the
difference. And  quite frankly to most of us what is the difference. It is
an awful lot of money.

   Khalid bin Sultan wanted to sue me for libel but didn’t and in the end I
knew he wouldn’t. I knew that the book was read both to King Fahd who was
compus mentus at the time and Crown Prince Abdallah.  King Fahd’s judgement
was that it was a reasonable question to consider. Even the bits were
possibly insulting the the House of Saud were true anyway. Crown Prince
Abdallah rather liked it because it wrote him back into the succession
question much more than some of his detractors at the time had considered.

    I wanted to do something on US Gulf policy because I thought it was an
interesting question and I am at the stage of gathering information and
thoughts. This is why I am very keen to open this up for discussion. I have
a blank sheet of paper on which I am prepared to take notes.

   I think that the interesting thing about American Gulf policy is that the
idea for it is okay but it is not working out in practise.  Policies are no
good unless they work out in practise so they have to be reformulated.

   I was rather hoping in that I was invited to give  this  lecture four
weeks ago that the Gore policy looks like this and the Bush policy looks
like being that. I never thought for one moment that it would be impossible
to say where we are on it. The net result of whoever wins is that they will
not have quite the authority they would of had if they had managed to a get
a clear cut result last week when the election happened. That lack of a
clear cut authority will be chiefly felt in American domestic policy. But I
would be very surprised if it didn’t follow onto foreign policy as well.

   Current American policy in the Gulf is residually but not completely the
dual containment policy which was announced by the then adviser to President
Clinton in 1993, Martin Indyck, who has since gone on to being ambassador to
Israel, then Assistant Secretary for the Near East and is now back as
ambassador to Israel.

    Dual containment is containing Iran and Iraq as opposed to adopting a
policy of support for one or the other against the other. This tended to be
the historical approach of the USA. One only has to remember American
support for the Shah in the 1970s to realise what that was about or the
clandestine support for, or at least bias, towards Saddam Hussein during the
  Iran-Iraq war.

   Dual containment meant they didn’t like either one and they decided to
contain both of them. But if you look at what Martin Indyck actually said he
was trying to contain both the radicalism and the adventurism of both those
countries.  These  are the words you have to remember because we now get
into a discussion of whether they are still radical and adventurous.

    There are four parts to US policy. Dual containment is the first one.
The second one was US efforts on the Middle East peace process which we have
seen thoughout the Clinton administration. They reached their highest or
most developed point with the Camp David talks in July and have now resulted
  in what is essentially a total collapse of the peace process.

    The third part of US policy was the desire to stem the spread of weapons
of mass destruction and the long range missiles capable of delivering them.

     The fourth part was the wooly, liberal prescription of trying to
encourage economic reform so as to bring about a greater and more even
spread of prosperity in the region and encourage democracy or consultation
and participation. The key word being more offensive to many parts of the
Gulf than pretty well any other word you can imagine.

   As such what Indyck said was not terribly different from what had been
the policy in the previous Bush administration which was laid out by the
then assistant secretary of state Edward Derijin in 1992 in  something
called The Meridian House Speech, the Meridian House being a sort of
cultural club in Washington DC.  He emphasised two things: one was an
Arab-Israeli peace process of some description and Gulf security
arrangements. So once again Gulf security gets into the description.

    Where are we now? I spent the summer in Washington talking to people
about  where they thought the policy was and where it could go to. I filled
a lot of notebooks with it. Many people made the perfectly justifiable point
that some of  it depends on the new  administration.

    I am trying to write something for the new administration mainly because
I can’t write so quickly and get it published. Also because I want a
slightly longer term.

   The categories I am looking at are the usual ones: Where is the price of
oil? What is going to happen to the price of oil?  What is the long term
price of oil by which I mean four to eight years, the time of two
administrations ahead. What is the role of Iraq going to be? Is Saddam
Hussein still going to be alive? If he is not what will he be replaced by.
In Iran will the trend towards Khatemi and the reformists continue? Notice I
say trend which means it hasn’t got there yet. Is that a reversable trend
and how much further is it going to advance. How are  you going to devise a
connection with the Middle East peace process which means that US efforts
take that into account but at the same time don’t have an effect of
micro-managing their policy in the Gulf. Not everything which happens in the
Middle East has to be related to the peace process or even should be related
to the peace process.

    When looking at the Gulf and the GCC countries we have a strange
combination. One used to be able to say the leadership is frightfully old.
Now we have got half of them where the leadership is frightfully old and the
other half where the leadership is frightfully young: not necessarily young
in the real sense of the word – untested, inexperienced and without being
deregatory immature. How well can they face up to what is going on.

   The essential thrust of the research I am doing at the moment is that
what is particularly wrong with US policy is not what it stands for. I am
trying to look at this in the medium term.

   What is particularly wrong with US policy in the Gulf today is that it is
military driven. The American military are the key components of what goes
in the Gulf. They are the ones with the money and the clout and the
diplomats of the State Department take a secondary line. You have somebody
like General Zinni, who was until the summer the head of the Central
Command. He was able to get access to pretty well any Gulf ruler he wanted
to go and visit. It was very willing access. I never met him but I am told
he had a particular style which was appreciated by Gulf rulers. They felt
they could deal with him. I am not sure whether his predecessors or his
successor have that same particular style. It is a very useful ability to

   Making sure that runaways are long enough and  that there is fuel at the
end of the runaways was a way I used to describe it. You could dock your
ships there. I used to describe it  that way until the end of the summer
when the destroyer Cole was attacked in Aden harbour. I now consider it an
inappropriate way to describe it but you can see what I mean.

     That is a very short term way of looking at US policy in the Gulf. It
is a very practical way. But it means that when the threat changes the US
military disappear and the diplomats are left holding something which does
not really amount to a policy.

    Let me end by giving you two or three vinettes. I am told that senior
State Department bureaucrats at the deputy assistant secretary level, the
ones who are in charge of the day to day relations with different parts of
the world and there are several of these who have responsibilities for the
Gulf are so over worked they seldom have time to go and make visits to the
Gulf. They are also so short of money that they don’t have the budgets to
visit the Gulf. By the time they have spent their air fare and provided they
with the ambassador they can just about do it.

   The other way to do it is to fly out with someone like Zinni, with the US
military. But at that point you just become part of his delegation. You have
access as a whole to the right level of people you want to speak to you are
just one component and you do not have the one to one contact that you need.

    People like Zinni used to travel in a US military aircraft which had
brilliant communications and everything was so well organised that it was
likened to the star ship enterprise.

    That is one view. Another image I have which I need to get confirmed is
that I don’t think Madeline Albright has been to any of the Gulf states
other than Saudi Arabia. The Saudis don’t particularly like her. She went to
Bahrain once but she went to Bahrain in the middle of the night and I think
she met the foreign minister. What I heard was that she didn’t even get off
the aircraft and the foreign minister came onto the plane to see her. Normal
protocol would suggest that you at least go to the VIP lounge and have your
cup of coffee and hold meetings there. It is an inappropriate way of
conducting foreign policy.

    If the Republicans get in things will be more pally at least with the
conservative Arab Gulf states. I was in Kuwait on a visit two years ago and
was visiting the American embassy on the same morning that ex president Bush
was also visiting with Scocroft his former national security adviser. They
wern’t there on a sort of nice to see you again visit and wasn’t it nice
when we beat the Iraqis. They were essentially there on a business trip
representing something called Carlyle which is an American investment
company. They were going around the Gulf urging more chunks of money off
Gulf sheikhs. If that is the way the Republicans are going to operate they
get on well at that level.

    The last thing I was going to say that in 1991 on the basis of having
written a book about Saddam Hussein I was having a long conversation with
someone in the Pentagon. He said to me what do you think the impact of the
defeat of Saddam Hussein will be on the Middle East. And journalists of
course like to take instant judgements. But I said I would prefer to take a
historical judgement and you can’t take a historical judgement until there
has been a lapse of time.

    I said I suspect we need to wait ten years before we decide what the
impact has been. As a budding historian I reserve the right to change my
mind. But I think what we have seen is that although in 1991 there was some
immense  gratitude to the Americans for liberating Kuwait and enormous
respect for American military power that has now turned almost completely
into reservations about American military power and a loathing and
disrespect for it.

     In what I am trying to write something which will be a prescription for
American foreign policy in the Gulf in the first half decade in this new
century. It is not enough to say they shouldn’t be there because the Gulf is
an important part of the world and America has a strategic interest to be
there. But how they are there and what they try to do there and the style
they adopt is something I want to write about. I look forward to hearing
your comments which will be useful in that analysis.

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