What do Arabs really think about the war in Ukraine and the US?

The financial district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Shutterstock)

The reality of Arab attitudes towards the war in Ukraine and the US administration is discussed by Ahmad Abdul-Rahman

The most that can be said about Arab attitudes towards the war in Ukraine is that their response has been slow and deliberate. Saudi Arabia has not abandoned the OPEC Plus strategy with Russia, despite the American demand to increase production. This means that Saudi Arabia is committed to the "OPEC Plus" strategy, in which Russia participates. Hence, Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, will not pump more oil to reduce prices, which rose to a 7-year high, despite US calls to increase oil production.

However, the Saudi cabinet has called for a return to negotiation. The Saudis even offered to mediate in the dispute.

As for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the UN Security Council, its representative in the Council abstained, even though the majority of members condemned the Russian aggression against Ukraine. However, the UAE also announced it was sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

As for Egypt, it has not yet expressed a clear position, and like other Arab countries, called for the warring parties to negotiate so that they return to peace.

Nonetheless, there have been no tense relations of any kind between Ukraine and the Arab countries. Still, some countries - such as Egypt – fear that their imports of wheat and other foodstuffs from Ukraine and Russia will reduce and the price will increase due to the war and sanctions on Russia.

To further enhance the Arab position, Arab countries do not suffer under the burden of embarrassment that both Iran and Israel do. The Iranians were disturbed by Russia's link between its membership in the UN and the effectiveness in the nuclear negotiations in Vienna on the one hand and the American and European positions in the war. They also feared that this would constitute an obstacle to reaching the agreement that is close to being achieved. As for the Israelis, they have been torn between their alliance with the US and their agreement with Russia on Syria. The Israeli army does not want to annoy Russia, and the media and the public want a UN biased position on Ukraine. Israeli officials welcome the obstacles that Russia could create for Iran in the absence of an agreement in Vienna.

Relations between the US under the current US administration and Saudi Arabia and the UAE were not at their best, whether with regard to stopping arms cooperation, the war in Yemen, and their position on the Houthis (in Yemen), or with regard to strange talk about money laundering and Houthi missile strikes against Saudi Arabia, and finally against the UAE. Although the Biden administration has showed belated enthusiasm about strategic alliance and defense against attack, the general negative or swinging trend has not changed.

In his interview with the American Atlantic magazine, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks about the huge Saudi money in the US, reckoned to be about USD 800 billion, while in say China it is only USD 100 billion. Bin Salman hinted that the matter of increasing or decreasing the bias towards China and Russia depends on changing US policies towards Saudi strategic interests, About 300,000 Americans are thought to be currently working there. As for the UAE's ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba, he indicated that his country's relations with the US are going through a crisis, but is one which is possible to overcome.

In fact, the wars in Iraq and Syria, and the Russian wars in Eastern Europe- the latest and most important is the war in Ukraine- revealed major strategic changes in the first two decades of the 21st century

Some strategic thinkers argue that the US is in the midst of a major strategic change, most notably the withdrawal from the Middle East and Europe. They argue that the US is shifting to focusing on the Pacific Ocean and confronting the rising Chinese economic and military power.

Another trend represented by strategists, many of whom are American, is that the US has shortcomings in relation to the economy, and its ability to control global events and certainly excel in them.

Joseph Stiglitz, Joseph Nye, and Paul Krugman, all left- or center-left liberals, argue that despite the many major mistakes in foreign and domestic policy, it is not alarming. They say that the US is still ahead of the rest of the world in terms of scientific progress, great universities, a vibrant society, and attracting talent from all over the world. Therefore, it is necessary to get out of identity conflicts, focus on priorities, bring new elites to decision-making positions, and avoid wars that would make the US lose its moral and military superiority. The funny thing is that these three liberal thinkers consider the Ukrainian war an opportunity to demonstrate moral superiority after much of the so called US superiority was lost in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and previously in Vietnam.

The Arab politician, like the Indian, Chinese or European statesman, is involved in discussions of appreciation and management, and opinions on the fates of American soft power. Discussions of this kind will not stop under Joe Biden, who is seen by many Americans as a weak president, nor even if Donald Trump returns.

Throughout the 21st century, the US, whether with its soft or hard power, will remain the world's preoccupation. Have we really entered a post-American world?

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Sunday, 25 September 2022