July 7, 2010

Mr President - take a lesson from the ambassador

President Obama, you constantly use the phrase, "Let me be clear."

Take a lesson in clarity from Yusif 'Utaybah, the distinguished ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States. Call him - he's at (202) 243-2400; I am sure he'll take your call.

You can't be much more clear than this. Ambassador 'Utaybah was speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the Iranian nuclear program. The ambassador stated that if sanctions fail to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the UAE supports an American military strike to halt the program. He went on to explain that the consequences of such an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities - and there certainly will be consequences - are far less damaging in the long term than Iran in possession of nuclear weapons.

In his words: "I think it's a cost-benefit analysis - I think despite the large amount of trade we [UAE] do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what."

Here is where he gets even clearer: "We cannot live with a nuclear Iran. The United States may be able to live with it; we can't."

The UAE is not the only Gulf Arab country to have these views. I would estimate that neither Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar nor Oman want to be neighbors with a nuclear-armed Iran. However, as the ambassador points out, if the United States will not fulfill its traditional leadership role in the region - which includes protection for the Gulf Arab states - these states will be forced to either make an accommodation with Iran, or in the case of larger countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, acquire their own nuclear arsenal.

Failure to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, in the eyes of these countries, will be an abdication of America's role in the Gulf - it will be the end of our status as the key power in the region. On top of that, we do not need a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf.

Most of us who speak with people in the Middle East have heard comments similar to those of Ambassador 'Utaybah. I was a bit taken aback by a remark by Representative Jane Harmon (D-CA) that she had never heard an Arab government official say this before. Either she meant that she never heard them say it publicly, or she's not listening. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I served as the defense attaché at the American embassy in Abu Dhabi - it was a privilege to work with the defense officials and military officers of the UAE. Reading the ambassador's words reaffirms my high regard for the Emiris - they get it.

How about some clarity on Iran, Mr. President - a clear, simple statement that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Take a lesson from the ambassador.