US, Regional Allies Harmed by Irrational Support for Terrorism

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

The remarks made by Vice President of the United States Joe Biden in October 2014 at Harvard University, in which he blamed the United States’ regional allies – including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – for the empowerment of the ISIS terrorist group, elicited stern protests from Turkey and the UAE. As a result, Biden made phone calls to leaders of those countries to offer his official apology. Some analysts maintain that his remarks were, in fact, some form of disclosure. Others still believe that the Americans are trying by making such remarks to put the blame for the existing insecurity in the Middle East region on regional countries that despite being US allies, act on their own independent views when faced with regional problems. Apart from the reason that prompted Biden to make his original remarks and his later apology to leaders of Turkey and the UAE, this issue can be used as a pretext to delve more into the policies adopted by the regional allies of the United States with regard to Syria. Through a brief analysis, one may claim that there is some sort of discrepancy and even conflict in interests between the United States and its Muslim allies in the Middle East region (including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE), especially when it comes to the situation in Syria. This is why these countries act in spite of Washington’s will in some of their policies.

If the existing problems in the Middle East were studied from the viewpoint of the ongoing crisis in Syria, we would have the supporters of the Syrian government, which are led by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia, on the one side with almost clear-cut demands. They put the highest emphasis on the need to maintain the legal government in Syria and continue the fight against armed opposition groups that are against the incumbent Syrian government, including Syrian groups as well as foreign-sponsored and Takfiri terrorist groups. The United States and other Western players along with the regional allies of Washington – such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and the UAE – stand on the other side of this equation whose demands are not uniform and similar.

In case of Syria, the United States at first pursued to implement an interventionist model similar to what it had already done in Libya. However, Russia did not want to repeat its past mistake of remaining indifferent – which was Moscow’s reaction to developments in Libya – because it had ample interests with regard to Syria. On the other hand, Iran continued to insist on the need to bolster and support the anti-Israeli resistance front in the region. As a result of these realities, the White House took concerns of Russia and Iran with regard to Syria on board. At the same time, the American leaders were concerned that increasing power of radical groups in Syria may directly target regional interests of the United States, and especially pose a threat to the very existence of Israel. Therefore, Washington gave up the idea of overthrowing the government of the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad. On the other hand, if the Muslim Brotherhood had come to power in Syria, it would have established strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other Arab countries and would have enjoyed all-out support of Turkey and Qatar, thus, giving birth to a regional power, which would have become a serious challenger for the United States.

In view of the above facts, there are many clear differences between the United States’ interests and the interests of some of its regional allies such as Turkey and Qatar when it comes to the situation in Syria. In the meantime, since Saudi Arabia was worried about the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, Riyadh lent its support to the military coup d’état against the government of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. In Syria, Saudi government bolstered Takfiri groups as a result of which the united front that was fighting against the Syrian government and which was known as Free Syrian Army was weakened. Therefore, the Syrian crisis served to reveal the existing conflict of interests and differences in policies between the United States and its regional allies. Of course, this issue has been apparently in favor of the incumbent government in Syria and has made it unlikely for the anti-Syrian front to go on with their original scenario of toppling the government of Bashar Assad. However, the difference in the interests of regional and transregional players active in Syria has also had a negative consequence in the form of spreading unrest throughout the region. As a result, the political crisis has now reached a critical stage not only in Syria, but also in other regional Arab countries, including Iraq, Lebanon and other regions.

The United States’ animosity toward the government in Damascus is obvious given the fact that the Syrian government is part of the axis formed by Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia, which is suffering from the delusion of a Shia crescent in the region, is doing its best to create a regional hegemony over Sunni Arab nations. In doing so, Riyadh considers Syria as one of the most important territories where it has not been able to achieve its goals so far. In the meantime, Turkey and Qatar were already known for taking relatively comprehensive and multilateral approaches in their foreign policy. As a result, the two countries, especially Turkey – whose domestic environment is greatly influenced by the crisis in Syria – were logically expected to choose a middle way between the Syrian opposition and government in order not to damage their regional prestige and credit by insisting too much on the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

Despite the above facts, during the past years, both countries have thought about nothing, but the overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria and have incurred heavy costs in this regard. Their position on the Syrian government has been somehow softened following the country’s recent developments, but it seems improbable that they have made a basic revision in their policies in Syria. This is truer about Turkey and is the main reason why the country’s statesmen are currently speaking about the necessity for the restoration of the foreign policy of Turkey. (1) However, it seems that by restoration, they do not mean a fundamental and basic revision in the country’s foreign policy approaches, but they only mean simple revision in tactics that Ankara uses to achieve its goals.

Finally, taking an absolute approach to the issue of Syria has faced Saudi Arabia with domestic crisis and has tarnished the image of this country due to its unbridled support for religious extremism and terrorist groups. At the same time, Turkey has lost its past position as a role model for a successful Islamist state while Qatar is facing the threat of being isolated both in the region and among the member states of (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC)].


(1)  DAVUTOĞLU Ahmet, Türkiye’nin Restorasyonu: Güçlü Demokrasi, Dinamik Ekonomi, Etkin Diplomasi, Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi, Vision Papers, No. 7, Ağustos 2014

Key Words: US, Regional Allies, Support for Terrorism, Joe Biden, United States, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Takfiri Terrorist Groups, Syria, Bashar Assad, Free Syrian Army, Vahedi

More By Elyas Vahedi:

*Iran, Turkey and Their Position in New Political Structure of Middle East:

*Turkey’s Middle Eastern Policies and the Concept of Commitment to Principles:

*The Republic of Turkey and a Trap Called Religious Conflict:

*Photo Credit: Middle East Monitor

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