The demonization of Iran commenced in force after the signing of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P5+1 (U.S., United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany), which prevents Iran from engaging in weaponizing nuclear bombs.
Two years after the agreement, the demonization of Iran continues by the U.S., Sunni Arab Gulf countries and Israel.
U.S. policy toward Iran and now toward Shi’a Muslims in general ratcheted up another notch after President Donald Trump’s late May visit to Saudi Arabia.
The current crisis between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with Qatar, which had been brewing for some time, broke out in full force on June 5. It seems that Trump’s visit provided the green light for the Saudis and the UAE to stage a diplomatic crisis to bring the recalcitrant Qataris back into the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council.
Oddly, despite the U.S.’s strong backing, however belated, for the Sunni Gulf Arabs in their mutual fight against terrorism and Iran, and the bromance exhibited during Trump’s visit, this crisis seems to have caught Washington off guard.
If this gambit by the Saudis and the UAE does not pay off as handsomely as they anticipate, one wonders if it will be possible to sustain the tacit alliance of the U.S. with the 41-Muslim nation, Saudi-led Sunni alliance against challenging Iran and other Shi’a countries. If not, then more problems will arise between the U.S. and the Saudi-led Sunni alliance.
At first glance, the current U.S. policy of currying favor with the wealthy Sunni Gulf Arabs for geo-political, economic and military reasons seems an astute strategic move despite traditional American values opposing monarchy, autocratism, authoritarianism, dictatorship, intolerance, prejudice and unhumanitarian practices.
It probably seems politically wise, especially for a country in political crisis, to support Gulf Arab countries, part of the 1.6 billion Sunni Muslim community, over the Shi’a who number around 300 million.
Numbers do count, especially when the Sunni population includes some of the most wealthy countries, if not the most productive, harboring substantial sources of oil, natural gas, minerals and rare earth resources.
But are Sunni Arabs and Americans, in spite of their current wealth, on the right side of history? Remember, almost all radical international terrorism emanates from within the Sunni Ummah.
The failure of monarchial, authoritarian, dictatorial, militarist Sunni regimes in the 20th and 21st centuries provides evidence of the poverty of Sunnism when such regimes use it to enhance political power.
It was the Sunni Ottoman Empire and Sunni regimes that lost the Middle East to British, French and Russian empires. It was the Sunni Turkish state that abandoned Alexandretta (Hatay) province to France in 1939; it was Sunni Arabs that lost part of Palestine and Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest city, to Jews in 1948. In Syria in 1963, Sunnis lost power to the Shi’a affiliated Alawites; still in power after 44 years.
During the time Sunnis were in power in Syria from 661 to 750 AD they established the first Islamic Empire, with Damascus as its capital. With the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, and with U.S. support, Shi’a came to power in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Empire from 750-1258.
Thus, by the first decade of the 21st century, the historical central cities of the Sunni Arab world — Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad (and also Beirut) — came to be dominated and ruled by Jews and Shi’a.
The lackluster legacy of Sunni Arab regimes in the past century and a half has not well served Shi’a Arabs, Sunni Arabs or Muslim peoples. It is this humiliation that drives Arab anger. The current crises in Arab Muslim countries, and among their ruling and economic elite, invite challenges. The further demonization of Iran and Shi’a will expedite these challenges.
Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of several books on the region.