Sorry, Obama: The Arab World No Longer Needs America

Saudi Arabia's attack on Yemen demonstrates Arab autonomy.

Operation Decisive Storm, the new coalition led by Saudi Arabia to roll back the takeover of Yemen by the Houthis is seen as an awakening by most of the Arabs, a new page that restores the strategic balance between them and Iran. There is a sense of relief and euphoria in many capitals that after a long hiatus, there is a new dynamism, new Arab spirit, and a resolve to roll back what they see as Iran’s “coup” in the region. There is a sense of regained dignity for the Arabs and a trust that the Arab world can take a stand. This new Arab reaction is also a warning to Iran that it has crossed “red lines” and overreached in its meddling in Arab affairs. Throughout the region, one hears and sees the belief that the Middle East before Operation Decisive Storm is not the same as it will be after it.

From the Gulf to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Maghreb, you can feel that the pulse of the region has changed. There is relief and pride that the Arabs are once again taking their destiny in their hands and many important individuals and newspapers, such as Al-Dustour and Hassan Asfour are hailing the move as a strategic change in Arab thinking.

Operation Decisive Storm represents such a new concept in the Arab world that it has been dubbed “Salman’s Doctrine,” after Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. When former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, it was the United States and its Western allies who took the initiative and put together a coalition to roll back Saddam’s invasion. The coalition was led by the United States,  while the Arabs were merely members of this coalition. But last week, when the Houthis and their ally, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not heed the Saudi Arabian advice to stay out of the port city of Aden, the Saudis did not wait for Washington or anyone else’s permission to take the initiative. They assembled a very strong coalition of 10 countries, coordinated with Washington and their Western allies and launched their operation.

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This bold move was considered a precedent in the Arab world. It was interpreted as a change from the previous position of “waiting for a U.S. move which will never come as happened in Syria” as Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper said. The first lesson of this operation is that “regional powers can lead and change history,” as respected Saudi columnist Jamal Khagokshi wrote in Al Hayat. The region is not waiting for Washington anymore and it cannot depend on it to come to the rescue.

The second lesson was that Washington will go along if you take the lead and show firmness and leadership, and it will not reject an Arab initiative that enjoys wide support. The reluctance of the Obama administration to intervene in the region, especially the refusal to do more in Syria was criticized widely but this latest Arab action might not have seen the light of the day if that was not for this American reluctance. President Obama might have inadvertently helped the region more than any other American administration by forcing it to rely on its own leadership and resources. The regional leaders and people discovered that they can do it, they can go alone with American blessings and support but not U.S. participation.

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The Arab leaders at the Arab summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt agreed to create a joint Arab military force, to be a deterrent force, or a peacekeeping force as Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said. As the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry put it, in the context of the challenges Arab security if facing, a force appropriate to facing those challenges has been created. The mere fact such the Arab nations agreed to create such a force after years of debate is an indication of its urgency. In Asharq Al-Awsat, Lebanese writer Radwan Al-Sayed noted that Iran and the West were used to Arab reluctance, and the refusal to take responsibility but said “today there is a place where there is unwavering Arab decision making. Yemen is a test, and if Sana’a is saved, the Arabs will be saved. This test is for Saudi Arabia, who has emerged as a leader and its success in Yemen can fortify this status or put it in jeopardy.”