By Faisal J. Abbas*
What is about to occur in Riyadh is unprecedented on so many fronts, not just because a US president has never before made an Arab or Muslim country his first foreign destination, but because of what Donald Trump’s visit means in terms of a genuine opportunity.
The stars cannot be any better aligned for a real, positive and lasting change to occur. However, we must first understand that this is not just about US-Saudi relations, but about a way forward for a region that has had enough turmoil, instability and suffering.
So what is different this time? We have a new US administration that seems adamant on resetting alliances in the region back to their correct path. The disastrous Obama Doctrine was laid to rest the moment the Trump administration fired missiles at the Syrian regime in retaliation for using chemical weapons (last night’s strike against a regime convoy near the Jordanian border is a clear message that the White House is not done yet with President Bashar Assad).
It is a shame that it took eight long years, the collapse of many stable regional states, the formation of Daesh as a result, plenty of destabilization to US allies at the hands of Iran and its agents, and three strikes by Tehran-backed Houthi militias against the US Navy near Bab Al-Mandab, for the truth to emerge that the advice coming from Riyadh was right all along.
Possibly the only good thing that might have come out during former President Barack Obama’s disastrous two terms is a changed and more dynamic Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is undergoing a massive transformation internally and externally. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of this transformation is its ambitions Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the economy and accelerate social reforms at a pace never imagined before.Does the vision solve all the country’s problems? Perhaps not. Is the Kingdom today where we would all like it to be in terms of reforms? Of course not. But one cannot ignore the impressive changes that have occurred in less than two years.
Who would have ever imagined Riyadh talking about clean energy or curbing the powers of the religious police? Other changes include the introduction of an entertainment authority, empowering women and removing many restrictions that used to stand in their way socially and professionally.
The Islamic Military Alliance
More importantly, the Trump administration now has a major asset if it is serious about combating terrorism: The Islamic Military Alliance, which was founded in, and is being led by, Saudi Arabia. This coalition is another example of how the Kingdom is unique in the sense that no other regional ally has the religious influence, military might or resources to actually make a difference.
What to expect? If we go by track record, whenever Riyadh and Washington worked closely together the results were almost always positive. Helping free Afghanistan from the Soviets in the 1980s is an example; liberating Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the 1990s is another.
Trump has also given positive signs on other fronts. His administration has made clear it will not tolerate Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. He also made clear he will put in serious efforts to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, and has provided real support to help solve the situation in Yemen. It is up to both us and the US not to waste this opportunity, otherwise the region as we know it may not remain intact for long.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas.
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