President Barack Obama’s summit with Arab leaders doesn’t seem to be going as planned.
First, King Salman of Saudi Arabia embarrassed the Obama administration when he backed out of the summit after the White House announced he was going to attend. The last-minute move was widely perceived as a deliberate snub, and the Saudis offered only a vague excuse for King Salman’s absence.
Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman attended the talks in Salman’s place.
Obama then incorrectly introduced the deputy crown prince and misnamed the founder of the kingdom. And while the summit kicked off in the US, King Salman met with princes and religious officials at his palace, including some of the most extreme clerics in the region.
Then came today’s big news: The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries intend to match Iran’s nuclear capacity if the US reaches a deal that allows some aspects of the country’s nuclear program, including uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles research, to continue.
One unnamed Arab leader who is participating in the talks told the Times that Sunni Arab countries “can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran [a Shiite regime] is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research.”
David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the group that publishes Foreign Policy magazine, weighed in on the implications of this, saying that Saudi Arabia’s expression of intent to match Iran’s nuclear development is a bigger blow to Obama’s summit than King Salman’s absence.
Michael Morell was also critical of the White House’s narrative surrounding the Benghazi attack in his book “The Great War of Our Time,” which is set to hit stores next week. He said the White House blocked him from sending an internal report on the CIA’s conclusions to Congress. “I finally did so without asking,” he wrote, according to the Times, just before leaving the agency.
He was critical of the White House’s decision to air preliminary CIA intelligence on several Sunday talk shows that said the demonstrations preceded the attack — an assessment that was later retracted. Morrell said the CIA would do well to avoid creating “talking points,” especially on issues that were co-opted for “political purposes.”
He also cited the agency’s overall failure for the rapidly shifting political climate in the Middle East following the Arab Spring uprisings.
“There is no good explanation for our not being able to see the pressures growing to dangerous levels across the region,” he reportedly wrote, adding that the CIA had grown too dependent “on a handful of strong leaders in the countries of concern to help us understand what was going on in the Arab street,” while the leaders themselves were out of touch.