It is unlikely that America would leave the Gulf in the hands of rival powers given the extent of its interests
Last week, The New York Times uncovered a plan prepared by the Obama administration to bolster the American military presence in the Gulf region. The plan is designed to avoid a vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of the US military forces from Iraq by the end of this year. The reinforcement includes, according to the US newspaper, the positioning of new combat forces in Kuwait and other Arab Gulf countries “able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran”.
After the failure to reach an agreement between Washington and Baghdad to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, analysts and commentators began to speculate about whether the Obama administration — under pressure to bring troops back home before the start of the elections season — may have decided to leave Iran’s influence unchecked. The revelation was an attempt by the US administration to calm these fears and to affirm its long-standing commitment to Gulf security.
In fact, as the US troops prepare to leave Iraq, America’s Arab allies, particularly Gulf states, have grown more wary about Washington’s policies and intentions in the region. On the one hand, they feel that the US has betrayed them when it failed not only to bring about more stability to the region after the invasion of Iraq but has also benefited Iran. Instead of containing and deterring Iran, US policy has in fact contributed to strengthening Tehran’s regional influence and failed to deal with its nuclear ambitions. On the other hand, Arab Gulf States feel that they can no longer rely on the US to ensure their security and well-being. While most Arab Gulf states oppose a military strike against Iran, fearing that it would backfire, they nonetheless believe that by leaving Iraq the US is in effect surrendering to Iran. All in all, “no faith in Washington” is the simple answer that one would get from Arab officials in the Gulf when asked about US policy.
The US has, for sometime, been aware of the lack of trust on the part of its Arab allies; hence it tried to bolster their morale, assuring the Saudis in particular that it would not fail them should they face major external threats. It is quite unclear if the announced plan would be enough to serve this purpose. Most Saudis still bitterly remember the empty US assurances during the disturbing events of the Iranian revolution. In 1979, the Carter administration dispatched several military units to the Gulf. However, the Saudis discovered, the F15 fighter planes, sent to bolster their security after the fall of the Shah, were in fact unarmed.