Well, that’s embarrassing.

What if you threw a summit and no one came? That’s Obama’s reality this week as four of six Persian Gulf heads of state have declined his invitation to a summit at Camp David later this week.

The kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have dropped out entirely, as have the heads of state from the United Arab Emirates and Oman. (Kuwait and Qatar haven’t dropped out yet, but there’s still time.)

This is a huge deal, considering the purpose of the summit is (in part) to address Iran’s growing influence in the region, and to discuss security guarantees from the Obama administration. Although Saudi and the other absentee nations will be sending deputies, the absence of their figureheads sends a strong message about the state of relations between the Middle East, and Barack Obama.

Via Fox News:

“We first learned of the King’s possible change of plans from Saudis on Friday night,” a senior U.S. administration official told Fox News. “This was confirmed by the Saudis on Saturday. We coordinated closely with our Saudi partners on the alternate arrangement and timing of the announcement and look forward to welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is not in response to any substantive issue.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, told the Associated Press Gulf leaders were staying away to signal their displeasure over the nuclear talks.

“I don’t think they have a deep respect, a deep trust for Obama and his promises. There is a fundamental difference between his vision of post-nuclear-deal Iran and their vision,” he said. “They think Iran is a destabilizing force and will remain so, probably even more, if the sanctions are lifted. … They’re just not seeing things eye to eye.”

These leaders are looking for more than a discussion; they’re looking for security commitments against not only the rise of Iran, but the extremist threat spreading out from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

The Saudi king in particular has reason to make these demands. Officials are citing the institution of a temporary cease fire in Yemen as the reason for the king’s absence, but according to sources, there’s more behind the snub than security concerns:

“The official said that when the king met Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh last week, he indicated that he was looking forward to coming to the meeting. But on Friday night, after the White House put out a statement saying Mr. Obama would be meeting with King Salman in Washington, administration officials received a call from the Saudi foreign minister that the king would not be coming after all.

“There was ‘no expression of disappointment’ from the Saudis, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. ‘If one wants to snub you, they let you know it in different ways,’ the official said.

No expression of disappointment—but why would they? This administration’s policy in the Middle East has gone from bad to worse, and their moves as of late have been less than helpful to coalition attempts to control Iran’s influence in the region.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept that Saudi and the other nations are pushing back against Iranian influence purely as a matter of power preservation, there’s still the matter of American interest in controlling it. Counterterror efforts on the Arabian Peninsula have suffered as a result of Yemen’s civil strife; that strife is a direct result of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels’ incursion into strategically crucial areas.

The fact that four out of six leaders are refusing to have a working lunch with Obama is reflective of the realities of a devolving Middle East. The President is confident that what he’s doing is the right call; those who are living with the consequences of his destructive decisions, however, have an entirely different perspective.

Hopefully this latest embarrassment will throw those differences into relief. (Doubt it? So do I.)


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