Obama Doctrine in Persian Gulf, A Return to Nixon’s

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tehran Times' Exclusive Interview with Gary Sick
By: Payman Yazdani

Gary Sick, a Middle expert who served on the U.S. National Security Council under Presidents Ford and Carter, is of the opinion that President Barack Obama is seeking to delegate security in the Persian Gulf to the countries in the region, which is somehow a return to the Nixon doctrine.

“The U.S. is going to slowly reduce its footprint in the region militarily and is going to look more and more to regional states to take on the security issues themselves,” Sick tells the Tehran Times in a phone interview.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: In 1971 the UK left the Persian Gulf region. From the perspective of major powers, since then how was the security order of the Persian Gulf shaped?

A: Initially, after the departure of the British in 1971, everyone expected the U.S. to step in and take over, but the United States did not and didn’t want to actually. The U.S. was tied down in Vietnam at that time and had no desire or ability to move in another major area so in effect what you had was the Nixon doctrine which in that named Iran and Saudi Arabia as the protector of the American and Western interests in the region and in fact it was performed and functioned for some years before the Iranian revolution. That policy came to an end at that time and the United States still chose not to enter in the region in a major way. After Saddam Hussein attacked Iran and when the war began in the sea in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. slowly but surely began to intervene in the region. Before the end of the war between Iran and Iraq, the U.S. became a party to that war and actually participating in a military way. Nevertheless carrying out military operations mostly against Iran.

Q: Generally, what is the U.S. new definition of security order in the Persian Gulf, especially after the collapse of the Saddam regime in Iraq?

A: Basically as I told you the U.S. was not interested to intervene in the region; the main reason that made the U.S. to intervene in the region again was Saddam Hussein, first by conducting the Iran-Iraq war and secondly by attacking Kuwait which then brought largest U.S. military force ever into the region and made the U.S. maintain its military footprint in the region and the military force brought in in response to Saddam’s was in fact used to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Since that time the U.S. has been recognized as the largest and the most powerful country in the region. The U.S. is for all practical purposes. So we have inherited certain number and we have taken on number of responsibilities. I think what President Obama is trying to do is to reduce that footprint not to have the U.S. withdraw from the region and to say the countries of the region are going to have greater responsibilities themselves. Part of that strategy was nuclear agreement between Iran and the West which eliminated the one part of the issue, the nuclear issue which is actually the most important problem in the region. By taking the nuclear issue off the table President Obama has left open the possibility that the countries of the region could begin to deal with their problems themselves. That has been slow because the countries of the region are not really happy dealing with each other. The U.S. allies in the region such as Saudis and others are quite accustomed to the U.S. to coming and taking care of their problems for them on strategic basis and they have been very reluctant to undertake any kind of strategic relationship with Iran in particular even after the nuclear agreement. But the fact that the Saudis and other countries in the region did sit down with Iran during the talks about Syria is a major step forward. It suggests that it is not impossible for the countries of the region to begin to talk to each other seriously about security issues. The U.S. basically asked for that in past and now is slowly trying to remove itself from that position. The countries in the region are not accustomed to talk to each other about the security issues and the security in the Persian Gulf. I think the Iran nuclear agreement has opened the possibility but it is going to take time for the countries in the region to begin to realize that they have to deal with each other if there is likely to be any kind of multilateral security in the Persian Gulf and I think that process is just beginning. It is not going to be quick and easy but it has started and at the end it likely will leave basis for discussions and the countries in the region will do agree that the U.S. is not going to take care of all the problems for them. That is the first step. I think the strategy adapted by President Obama which I call it the Obama doctrine is not well understood. I don’t think there is a good understanding of what is going on here. I personally believe this is the right direction to go but again it is not the matter of the U.S. saying we are going to withdraw from the Persian Gulf and disappear over the horizon; on the contrary here is something to say that the U.S. is going to slowly reduce its footprint in the region militarily and is going to look more and more to regional states to take on the security issues themselves. Actually there is a return to the Nixon doctrine. What President Obama is arguing is not they are going to act as protectors of the U.S. interests in the region. They are going to begin to work together to try to find a new security structure to protect the Persian Gulf. That is a very good thing but this is something that parties themselves have to do, not something that the U.S. can come in to solve or something than the U.S. can order to happen.

Q: The U.S. has always insisted on state security of its regional allies but threats are mainly domestic, I mean the non-democratic governments who ignore the legitimate demands of their citizens. Considering this fact, how can the U.S. justify this contradiction?

A: As I just said the U.S. strategy is not to intervene and solve all the problems in the region. I think this is the essence of the Obama doctrine that offers the possibility of long term peace and stability to the region but it is not something than the U.S. can order or come in and make it happen. It is up to the countries in the region themselves. Every country in the region has its own domestic problems that are embarrassing and that are harmful that includes Iran but those issues cannot be resolved by the U.S. They can be resolved by the countries themselves.

Q: You referred to the nuclear agreement between Iran and the 5+1 group. What is your prediction of the implementation of the deal? Will the next U.S. president continue to implement?

A: First of all, it is being implemented by both parties and all the parties to the agreement have taken steps that they promised they would. Iran has in fact taken all the steps necessary and as a part of the agreement the U.S. has undertaken its part of the agreement. Everybody in next step must remove the sanctions and take the other serious steps. The agreement has worked exactly and there have been no efforts to either change or back way from the agreement. The agreement is fully implemented by January or February and that would mean the agreement will be implemented by both parties and all parties for almost a year before next U.S. president takes office. My very strong belief is that the next president, no matter who next president is, will look at it and undoing the agreement would do a huge amount of harm and absolutely no good at all. Whatever they have said in the course of the election campaign primarily can’t be related to the reality. They will look at the situation from the position of the president. U.S. point of view, walking away from agreement would not be only walking away from Iran it would be walking away from sovereign U.S. national commitments which means there has to do with American credibility on any agreement we sign and it would also be walking away from all our major allies and all Security Council members. I think any U.S. president will look at it and realize that those other countries would not follow the U.S. and then they are going to implement the agreement and the U.S. is an outlier it not only has no effect on the agreement but also it will have sever effect on the U.S. national interests. My guess is that any new president will in fact implement the agreement perhaps less enthusiastically than the Obama administration, but I don’t think next U.S. president will walk away from the agreement.

Q: In October the UK opened a naval military base in Bahrain. Doesn’t this mean that the UK is seeking to revive the pervious security order in the region?

A: Opening of that base is indeed return to something. This was first base the British have opened in eastern Suez since 1971 and it is a major development. This has been very much involved in providing some level of security in the Persian Gulf. I would say the effect of that depends on just what security situation is in the gulf. If there is no threat to oil, if the countries in the region are beginning to talk to each other, then the presence of few British ships there like the ships of many other countries such as the U.S. and France is going to change nothing in the region. The real issue here is whether the countries of the region themselves are capable of beginning to solve their own problems. I know that the U.S. is not going to play a role in trying to solve everybody’s problems in the region. I don’t believe that the British are going to take on the responsibility of the security protector in the Persian Gulf as past. I see this as a new factor but not a something that actually changes the basic strategy and security structure of the Persian Gulf.

Source: Tehran Times

More By Gary Sick:

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*Saudi Arabia's Widening War:

*The Deal with Iran: Five Arguments to Watch Out For:

*Photo Credit: Persian Gulf Studies Center

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.   

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