U.S. Afghan withdrawal sparks crisis of confidence in U.S. credibility

Nothing left to lose

September 15, 2021 - 20:56

TEHRAN – The U.S. chaotic and disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan has created seismic effects mostly felt by the Saudis along with other U.S. allies in the region who are now deeply concerned about being abandoned by their unreliable American friends. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who had initiated the process of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, took a jab at President Joe Biden on Friday. After inveighing against the way Biden handled the Afghan withdrawal, Trump warned of the U.S. ceasing to exist in the next few years. 

In an interview with Newsmax, Trump said, “Our country has gone really downhill in the last eight months like nobody’s ever seen before.”

Trump went so far as to say that the U.S. existence would be at risk if Biden remained president. 

“And you go to these elections coming up in ’22 and ’24 — we’re not going to have a country left,” Trump said. “The election was rigged, and we’re not going to have a country left in three years, I’ll tell you that.”

This may seem a little bit exaggerated for the Americans, but not for the U.S. allies in the region who seem to think that the American era is over. 

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has sent these allies scrambling to find new security guarantors after concluding that America is no longer a reliable security partner. 

A senior Persian Gulf Arab official voiced these concerns in remarks to Reuters on Monday that were widely circulated by Saudi and Emirati media, reflecting a sense of unease among Arab monarchies of the geopolitically important region. 

“Afghanistan is an earthquake, a shattering, shattering earthquake and this is going to stay with us for a very, very long time,” the Arab official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the diplomacy.

“Can we really depend on an American security umbrella for the next 20 years? I think this is very problematic right now – really very problematic,” he added. 

Persian Gulf Arab allies of the United States find the way that U.S. foreign policy appears to oscillate with “180-degree shifts” problematic and fears that militants will gain a foothold in Afghanistan, the official said.

The statements come days after the cancellation of the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Riyadh, which confirms the tense relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, according to Al-Arab, a London-based newspaper close to the United Arab Emirates. 

The newspaper also suggested that the official was a Saudi. 

The presumed Saudi official’s statements came after Riyadh asked Washington to keep an advanced missile defense system in Saudi Arabia. Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal called on Washington not to withdraw the THAAD missile defense system, which is capable of detecting, tracking and shooting down ballistic missiles.

This call was another Saudi confirmation that the U.S. has withdrawn some of its air defense systems from the oil-rich kingdom.

The Associated Press, analyzing satellites photos, reported that the U.S. has removed its most advanced missile defense system and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks.

The redeployment of the defenses from Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh came as America’s Persian Gulf Arab allies nervously watched the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, including their last-minute evacuations from Kabul’s besieged international airport, the Associated Press said, adding that Persian Gulf Arab nations worry about the U.S.’s future plans as its military perceives a growing threat in Asia that requires those missile defenses.
Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, told the American news agency that “the perception is very clear that the U.S. is not as committed to the [Persian] Gulf as it used to be in the views of many people in decision-making authority in the region.”

The expert added, “From the Saudi point of view, they now see Obama, Trump and Biden — three successive presidents — taking decisions that signify to some extent an abandonment.”

There are a growing number of indications that Saudi Arabia, feeling a sense of abandonment by the U.S., is taking precautionary measures to boost its homegrown military capabilities after it became increasingly frustrated over securing a longstanding American commitment to preserving its security.

On Tuesday, the Kingdom established a body called the General Authority for Defense Development to specialize in research and innovation in the fields of technology and defense systems, after the United States withdrew its equipment.

During a cabinet meeting chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia approved the establishment of the new body, with the aim of developing defense systems. 

The authority aims to “identify the objectives of research, development and innovation activities related to the fields of technology and defense systems, and to set their policies and strategies.”

The Saudi press has hailed the establishment of the institution as a step toward qualitative development of defense systems in Saudi Arabia. 

Al-Bilad newspaper said in its editorial that the authority, which enjoys legal entity and financial and administrative independence, is linked to the head of the Saudi Council of Ministers.

The newspaper further added that the approval represents a qualitative step to enhance the qualitative development of the defense system in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s goal of developing the defense system is witnessing practical achievements to localize the military industries, their latest technologies and expertise, as this vital sector contributes to further strengthening defense capabilities and the national economy, as well as providing strong investment opportunities for the private sector in the local defense industry in order to localize 50 percent of the Kingdom's spending on military equipment and services and create hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for Saudis, the daily said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has hinted at purchasing defense systems from sources other than the United States. Prince Turki said that his country preferred U.S. assistance, but hinted that Riyadh had requested “other support” to strengthen its air defenses.

The Saudi prince did not provide details about the sources of this other support. But reports from Israel have claimed that Saudi Arabia has reached out to Israel about the possibility of procuring Israeli-made missile defense systems.

Quoting Israeli sources, Breaking Defense has reported that Saudi Arabia is seriously considering alternatives for American THAAD and Patriot batteries from China, Russia and, Israel. The Saudis are considering either the Iron Dome, produced by Rafael, or the Barak ER, produced by IAI, which is designed to intercept cruise missiles. One source told Breaking Defense that Saudi “interest in the Israeli systems has reached a very practical phase.”


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