Marc Lynch

What can we learn from the Emirates?

By Brian Katulis Thanks to Foreign Policy and my friend Marc for inviting me to guest-blog during my current trip to the Arab Gulf. I’m in the United Arab Emirates as part of a delegation organized by the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), directed by Jon Alterman (check ...

587743_090316_dubai2.jpg
An Emirati woman crosses a street on the waterfront opposite Dubai's twin towers as Asian workers load products for export 24 September 2003. The Gulf emirate hosted the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank which ended today with a call for greater exchange rate flexibility and structural reforms to consolidate the nascent recovery of the global economy. The two-day meeting also urged richer countries to increase aid to the developing world and lower their subsidies to agriculture in order to allow poor countries to increase their trade.AFP PHOTO/Rabih MOGHRABI (Photo credit should read RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Brian Katulis

Thanks to Foreign Policy and my friend Marc for inviting me to guest-blog during my current trip to the Arab Gulf.

I'm in the United Arab Emirates as part of a delegation organized by the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), directed by Jon Alterman (check out the program's excellent reports and note here. The U.S. delegation is in the U.A.E. and Kuwait this week to see how people here are thinking about the global economic meltdown, Iran's evolving role in the region, and the increasing emphasis in U.S. policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan (discussed in that order out here).We're also hearing a good bit on the usual mix of Middle East issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iraq.

By Brian Katulis

Thanks to Foreign Policy and my friend Marc for inviting me to guest-blog during my current trip to the Arab Gulf.

I’m in the United Arab Emirates as part of a delegation organized by the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), directed by Jon Alterman (check out the program’s excellent reports and note here. The U.S. delegation is in the U.A.E. and Kuwait this week to see how people here are thinking about the global economic meltdown, Iran’s evolving role in the region, and the increasing emphasis in U.S. policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan (discussed in that order out here).We’re also hearing a good bit on the usual mix of Middle East issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iraq.

Relative to Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict and other things Marc usually writes about on this blog, the U.A.E. is somewhat of a humdrum place to visit from a U.S. foreign policy standpoint. Headlines in local newspapers talk more about other countries in the neighborhood, rather than events at home.
The day of our arrival, the front page of Khaleej Times, which claims to be the number 1 English language daily here, had the following headlines – “Zardari Pondering Way Out of Crisis” (Pakistan), “Sanctions Childish: Iran” (Iran), “Mega-rich Indians Feel the Pain” (India), and “Under Pressure, Switzerland Opens up on Bank Secrecy” (essentially a global finance story), all right above a large color McDonald’s print ad for a 14 dirham value meals (Prompting one to wonder: What exactly is the cost-benefit equation of front-page color ads for fast food restaurants?) The big story seems to be the economy and all of the talk of the “Dubai” model for progress.

But beneath the surface view of the glitz and glammor of the economic talk lurk some of the most complicated security and economic challenges in the world. By virtue of geography and the country’s unique role as a financial, trade, and economic powerhouse and go-between, the UAE finds itself at the center of three top-tier national security concerns for the new Obama administration:

1. Iran. The Persian shadow looms large in the Emirates, with many shades of grey in the bilateral relationship between Iran and the U.A.E. At least 100,000 Iranians live in the U.A.E. – with some estimates ranging two to three times larger than that, and the commercial links between the two countries are substantial.

Yet at the same time, the ruling elite quite clearly expresses a wariness about possible U.S. engagement of Iran shared by other Arab Gulf countries. The U.A.E. maintains no fewer than 80 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighters and receives ongoing training and support from the U.S. Air Force at Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi (where we received briefings earlier today, more about that later this week). The U.A.E. is also the beneficiary of a massive explosion of U.S. foreign military sales, which accelerated in 2007 with the Bush administration’s announcement of more arms transfers to the region.

2. “Pak-Af.” The hottest topic in U.S. foreign-policy circles in the opening weeks of the Obama administration has been the so-called “Af-Pak” basket of issues – Afghanistan and Pakistan. People here say the U.S. has it backwards and talk about it in reverse order – putting Pakistan in front of Afghanistan as a concern. It makes sense – Pakistan has nuclear weapons and about six times as many people as Afghanistan.

And for the U.A.E., it’s only natural to think of it as “Pak-Af,” given that hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis live and work in the U.A.E., sending money back to Pakistan in remittances that dwarf any amount the United States might be willing to give to Pakistan in bilateral development assistance. The ruling family in the Emirates has had long-standing ties with the late Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto and her husband, current President Asif Ali Zardari, and the U.A.E. has become ever more dependent on agriculture in Pakistan for its own food security. Not that Afghanistan doesn’t also matter  – the U.A.E. is actually the only Arab country with combat forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

Also prior to 9/11, the U.A.E. was one of the few countries in the world with close ties to the Taliban regime, so presumably those contacts might be useful in any proposed dialogue with Taliban insurgents. Hopefully, the Obama administration team that is reviewing the policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan are talking to people in the Emirates.       

3. The global economic meltdown. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair highlighted the global economic crisis as a national security concern in his “Annual Threat Assessment” testimony to Congress last month, and even oil-rich Abu Dhabi and the financial metropolis of Dubai have been impacted negatively on these dynamics.

With a local population smaller than some neighborhoods in Cairo and Karachi, the U.A.E may not matter hugely on its own, but the perspective it brings from its role in these thress issues could help the new U.S. administration develop an integrated strategy that accounts for the many security, political, and economic linkages that exist between the Middle East and South Asia. 

Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy with an emphasis on the Middle East, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Pakistan.

Photo: RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images

Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security. His past experience includes work at the National Security Council and the departments of State and Defense under the Bill Clinton administration. He also worked for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Freedom House, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey. He is the co-author of The Prosperity Agenda, a book on U.S. national security. Twitter: @Katulis

More from Foreign Policy

Volker Perthes, U.N. special representative for Sudan, addresses the media in Khartoum, Sudan, on Jan. 10.

Sudan’s Future Hangs in the Balance

Demonstrators find themselves at odds with key U.N. and U.S. mediators.

In an aerial view, traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1 after being diverted away from Interstate 95 after it was closed due to a winter storm.

Traffic Jams Are a Very American Disaster

The I-95 backup shows how easily highways can become traps.

Relatives and neighbors gather around a burned vehicle targeted and hit by an American drone strike in Kabul.

The Human Rights vs. National Security Dilemma Is a Fallacy

Advocacy organizations can’t protect human rights without challenging U.S. military support for tyrants and the corrupt influence of the defense industry and foreign governments.

un-sanctions-inspectors-china-foreign-policy-illustration

The Problem With Sanctions

From the White House to Turtle Bay, sanctions have never been more popular. But why are they so hard to make work?