We have a stable future within reach – we need to grasp it, not let it go. In August 2020, the UAE established full diplomatic relations with Israel, making it the third Arab country to establish formal relations with the Jewish state and the first new country to do so in 28 years by signing the Abraham Accords.That was a brilliant diplomatic move by the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and America. But time grows short for regional peace.
Looking over one shoulder, as we now see Iran pressing nuclear weapons, the Biden Administration fumbling, and a fraying of past progress, it breaks your heart that we do not have a fresh generation – strong and dynamic political leaders – who see that the Middle East is worth their full attention.
We need to say, “we can get this right, we must get this right.”The long history of national and sectarian conflict, cultural differences, uncorrected misperceptions, and lost hope make optimism hard. But Trump – and all those who joined the Abraham Accords – said “let’s give this another try, let’s work on this as if it mattered, because it does, let’s take one bite at a time.”
The concept is not complicated, but hard to make real. It is that, maybe by doing that, we can get to a point where we all see the world a little more in terms of our mutual interest. It was the act of establishing peace in areas that are rife with conflict not giving up, offering a win-win in a world littered with lose-lose – that made this work. We need to hold tight that kite string and remember – as Winston Church once said – “Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.” We need to work harder.
Ultimately, this raises the seminal question as how a lasting peace is made and kept between the Arabs and the Israelis. Broadly, it is always two steps forward and one step back, then two steps forward, and one step back. This goes on until people realize a sort of a tipping point has been reached, where people realize it is worth the extra effort to get there.
I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East over the years, UAEand all over the region, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and everywhere. Generally, there are three strategic pivots that are shaping and impacting the Middle East and the Gulf region.
First, there are very few disagreements between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. We have the F-35 military planes deal. That is a $23 billion weapons deal … Just to be clear, I am not in the government now, but outside the government. Still, I am tracking that story. It concerns me a little bit, because I hope friction around that deal was just a bump in the road. I hope it is just a small issue. I think that relationship is very important for the UAE, the United States, and our many mutual allies.
The second strategic reality is the danger of a nuclear deal with Iran. I can recall Obama's deal with Iran in the year 2015. I believe that was a foil, a trap a bad deal. I think it gave Iran a sense of permission to go forward at some point with nuclear weapons, palpably imperiling global peace. We are not talking about a country that it trustworthy, whatever may yet be signed. Reagan used to say, “trust, but verify.” But sometimes, you do not trust, if there is reason not to trust. I am not a fan of that deal. It was ill-conceived, misgauged the magnitude of the threat. This administration must wake up be circumspect, clear-eyed. We need to build a coalition of free nations who say we do not want a nuclear Middle East, that is not good for anybody. It does not matter what side you're on.
The third strategic reality is the old problems that plague us, more each day – such as drug trafficking, rule of law, recognizing the importance of individual liberties, longer term objectives persistent in international security politics.
I can recall my government experience in this domain. My job as an assistant secretary of state was both police training around the world, which is a very straightforward sort of process, and counter narcotics. “Plan Colombia,” was the sort of effort trying to turn down the volume of heroin production in Afghanistan. I absolutely do believe that the Taliban will resort to drug trafficking to generate revenue, and there are cascading problems from the unconscionable mess the Biden team left in that country.
The Taliban – and other terror groups – have no respect for rule of law in the commonly understood sense of that phrase, have long been tied to trafficking in drugs, just as they are trafficking people and just as they are trafficking other things. But drugs are a major concern as Afghanistan has a very weak legitimate economy. It does not have much. It does not even have infrastructure, roads. Having spent some time there, problem is unfortunately heroin poppies, the ability to coerce people to produce heroin, and then the trafficking … beyond raw suppression and terrorism. Drug trafficking has long profited the Taliban …
Finally, the killing of Ayman Al Zawahiri is a positive turn. But also, it is likely to highlight conflict between Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Ultimately, keeping terrorism at bay is a constant, unending, vitally important mission for all free peoples, all who value order, stability, and security.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert B. Charles is an American lawyer and Republican political figure. He was assistant secretary of state at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs from 2003 to 2005, under Secretary of State Colin Powell. He also worked in the Reagan and George HW Bush White Houses, served as Counsel to the US House Oversight Committee for five years, was a US naval officer for ten years, wrote the book “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), and taught at Harvard’s extension school.