The Next U.S. Presidency and U.S.-Arab Relations: Probabilities, Possibilities, Potential Pitfalls

26 October 2016
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 Khalaf Al Habtoor gives keynote Speech at 25th Annual Arab US Policymakers Conference
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Speech by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor at the 25th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

‘The Next U.S. Presidency and U.S.-Arab Relations: Probabilities, Possibilities, Potential Pitfalls’

Atrium Hall

Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning,

 

I would like to start by thanking the National Council on US-Arab Relations, led by Dr John Duke Anthony, for inviting me back.

Let me tell you about where I come from. I was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. My country is one of eight nations that share the Arabian Gulf: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq – and Al Ahwaz, land of the Arabs claimed by the Iranians on the Arabian Gulf.

I have travelled to Washington DC from the Arabian Gulf. Not the Persian Gulf as you Americans call it. It is the Arabian Gulf. All eight countries that share this water are Arab people, yet you refuse to recognize it for what it is: The Arabian Gulf!

Why? I cannot understand.  Your government has to decide who are its friends in the Middle East, as right now those of us in the GCC are not sure. The GCC countries have been good friends to America yet the US government is leaning nowadays in favour of Iran. This is a cause of concern.

Iran is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism. A truth that the US seems to forget for its own interests. Iran’s intentions are clear. It wants to be the supreme player in the region, and it is getting its wish with the help of the US and other western nations. Rather than focusing on Iran, and getting rid of its evils, the US is targeting a long-time ally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I am very concerned about the negativity against the Kingdom and the GCC countries. The next administration needs to remember the rich history, and strong friendship it has had with us.  The question has to be asked. Why now? The timing was perfect. As oil prices dropped everyone turned their backs on Saudi Arabia and made friends with Iran. As soon as sanctions were lifted, the West jumped at the opportunities. They saw the 150 billion US dollars. Greed, money and interests won over loyalty.

The West has been blinded by the dollar sign. Where do you think the money will go? Did President Barack Obama really believe that it will benefit the Iranian people? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never lacked funds. Even before this, Khamenei had an estimated fortune of USD 95 billion. What has he done for his people? And why will he do something now? Even John Kerry has openly admitted that some of the sanction relief will fund terrorism. I think that “some” is a bit too hopeful. Western leaders might as well give the money directly to the terrorists.

What I cannot understand is how the United States cannot see Iran for what it is. Your government and intelligence services are the best in the world and can monitor anyone, any time, anywhere. You know the real Iran, I am certain of that!

We need to determine which side America is on going forward. From where I am standing, I have to say: I don’t know.

The passing by US Congress of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, referred to as “JASTA” is another nail in the coffin of US-GCC relations. It has opened the floodgates. The future Iraq is seeing it as an opportunity to claim compensation from the US invasion, and abuses committed by American forces, and Saudi could consider passing a similar bill. The blame goes to your current administration.

I pray that your next President restores our faith in America and its interests. It will be a historic day when the new President takes up the role as Commander-in-Chief and Leader of the Free World. Your next President has a big challenge ahead. He or she faces the biggest hurdles than any other President in history.

You may ask what right do I have as an Arab, a non-American citizen, to pass comment on your future leader. I tell you this. I have the right, because whoever gets into the White House affects everybody. The entire world.

The new President’s policies will either empower our enemies or weaken them. History has shown how American leaders have impacted the Middle East with their wrong information, foolish policies and illegal wars.

The next President needs to be someone ready to take tough decisions. Today, our entire planet is facing enormous challenges that need addressing for all our sakes.

The challenges are:

  1. Everyone’s nightmare, our biggest man-made monster - Daesh.
  2. The global refugee crisis, which is a growing threat to stability… let alone the human tragedy.
  3. The fear of ‘the other’ caused by the lack of education and irresponsible media.

I urge American voters to take these into consideration when choosing their next President. I have high hopes that America will make the right choice and its new leader will be able to take tough decisions when needed. The biggest threats we face today are because of past failures. We cannot afford any more mistakes.

We have witnessed more than a decade of wars in the Middle East due to the proven illegal invasion of Iraq. The whole world is threatened. Countries have been destroyed. A huge number of people killed, and millions more displaced.

Syria is a prime example of the result of inaction. The world’s biggest criminal Bashar Al Assad remains in power. He is butchering men, women and children every day. A country has been destroyed. Years and years of civilization gone. The playing field has been left to Iran and Russia to create more evils.

America claims to be “the defender of human rights”, yet the daily massacres in Syria are not enough to get its attention.

I cannot tell you how many times I have warned of the dangers of inaction. I have urged world leaders through letters, articles and speeches to listen to my warnings. Is anybody listening? Had they listened, we would not be faced with the global threat of terrorism.

The likes of Hezbollah and all the militia empowered by Iran, and the ‘Islamic State’ would not be the threat they are today. I will use the reference ‘Islamic State’ just this once. These terrorists are not Muslims. Islam is a religion of peace. No religion allows such savage acts. I urge everybody to stop using this term, please.

There is no doubt in my mind that Daesh and other terror networks are the result of the US-led invasion in Iraq and the war in Syria. The damage has already been done, and cannot be solved quickly. We must learn from past mistakes.

And we must all take ownership. America is not the only one at fault, other Western countries and the Arab world have to take their share of responsibility. No more time can be wasted. The threat of terrorism throughout the world is worse today than it has ever been. There is a real and present danger each day of a potential terror attack every single day.

Unfortunately, the likes of Daesh, Hezbollah and others are dividing our world, and as a result we Arabs and Muslims are facing a damaging image of our culture and religion. Fear of the other is at its worst.

This growing epidemic must be stopped. Politicians capitalizing on this and flaring fear of ‘the other’ must be stopped. A Presidential candidate who uses this fear to get into the White House must be stopped. A Presidential campaign must not be laced with racism for political gain.

The American public must be educated on what a true leader should be. The media plays a huge role in highlighting the qualities of the right leader for the United States of America. It is its responsibility.

The right President is someone with ethics, transparency and someone who does not feed on fear for their own agenda.

The United States of America has always been known as ‘the Land of Dreams’ where anything is possible. America was built by immigrants. American citizens are rooted from all over the world. Its diversity has contributed to its success. You cannot allow your next President to take you back to the Dark Ages.

The American Dream promises that all men and women are created equal with the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Let us hope the next President can turn the American Dream back into a reality.

I leave you with this. It is time to stop talking politics and let us focus and deal with real the problems threatening our world today. If we join hands together, we will be strong enough to dismantle terrorism in the Middle East, and the world. It is a fact that poor countries have significantly higher terrorism rates. Terrorism plays on poverty. Peace blossoms in wealthy societies. With that in mind we must give priority to poverty alleviation and not lose sight of it. If we solve this together then the world will be a much safer place for us all.

This is why I want to announce that - to start with - I will commit USD 20 million of my own money for poverty alleviation, and I invite others to match – or exceed this amount. I urge others to join the fight. Governments, individuals and global organizations. Together, we can change the world.

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