In December 1971 when the late Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan united seven disparate emirates
into the United Arab Emirates, the United States was quick to recognize the
independence of this nascent nation of one million in the heart of the
energy-rich Persian Gulf. That gesture of goodwill 40 years ago has
blossomed into a deep-seated multi-dimensional relationship that has
transformed the U.A.E. as one of America's most important allies.
While the emirate of Dubai has certainly captured the attention of many in
the West as a financial hub and tourist destination, it is Abu Dhabi that
plays a leading role in shaping the nature of relations with Washington.
Indeed, the tone and tenor of U.S.-U.A.E. relations is set by Abu Dhabi's 50
year-Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. A graduate of Sandhurst,
Britain's premier military academy, Sheikh Mohammed is a visionary leader
who sees relations with Washington as anchored in two human virtues: the
soul and the mind.
This emphasis on the soul explains his commitment to philanthropy and why a
major component of relations with the United States revolves around
charitable donations. Whether donating money to victims of Katrina or
computers to devastated schools in Joplin, Missouri, Sheikh Mohammed has
been at the forefront. Not surprisingly, he has stood side by side with the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the global fight against malaria with a
$25 million donation and a recent $50 million contribution to fighting polio
in Afghanistan and Pakistan through the Child Polio Eradication Program.
Despite being one of the world's largest oil exporters, the vulnerability of
our plant to global warming and a religious obligation to protect the
environment prompted Sheikh Mohammed to initiate the building of the world's
first carbon-free city called Masdar in Abu Dhabi. This solar city will be
the hub for clean tech companies from around the world and headquarters of
the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Beyond being moved by his soul, it is Sheikh Mohammed's clear thinking
strategic mind that plays a key role in shaping U.S.-U.A.E. relations and by
default protecting the vulnerable yet strategic energy resources of the
Persian Gulf. If the clerics in Iran represent the arc of instability in the
Middle East, Abu Dhabi represents the arc of stability. The regime in Tehran
continues to meddle in the internal affairs of its neighbors and supports
terrorist organizations. Therefore, if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon
the consequences for the region would be devastating. Sheikh Mohammed
understands this existential threat and luckily for Washington has been the
architect of a close strategic, defense and security relationship between
the U.S. and U.A.E. According to the Pentagon, the value of military sales
to the U.A.E. stands at almost $22 billion. In addition, the U.A.E. hosts
more U.S. navy ships than any port outside of the U.S. Not surprisingly, it
is the most active Arab partner in Operation Enduring Freedom. Furthermore,
the U.A.E. continues to play a critical role in efforts to curb and stop
nuclear proliferation. According to American officials, it has shown
leadership in taking important steps to enforce export controls and to
ensure that sensitive items do not make their way to Iran.
The breadth of America's relations with this discreet but reliable ally was
expanded recently when Sheikh Mohammed gave his blessing to a transparent
nuclear energy program. By actively seeking to set an example of
responsible, transparent and non-proliferative use of nuclear energy the
U.A.E. has clearly distinguished itself from Iran's secretive and dangerous
nuclear weapons program. "The agreement is a tangible expression of the
United States' desire for a close cooperation with the U.A.E.," said Ellen
Tauscher of the State Department "and it is part of a strong and mutually
beneficial political, security and economic relationship." The weight of
available evidence from inside Iran suggests that the Iranian people are now
questioning their own government's motives now that their neighbor has
gotten the blessing of the U.S. and international community to adopt nuclear
energy as an element of its economic development strategy.
The Arab League has also been energized by the U.A.E.'s active encouragement
of and support for the people of Libya and Syria. Sheikh Mohammed clearly
understands that good governance must take root in the Arab world if this
creative and capable people are to take their rightful place amongst the
community of nations. While some in the West may be critical of the slow
pace of reform in the Arab world, the recent steps by rulers such as Sheikh
Mohammed are encouraging.
Of equal importance to Sheikh Mohammed is the development of a true
people-to-people relationship between America and the U.A.E. Today, more
than 30,000 Americans live and work in the UAE, and over 750 American
companies are doing business there. In addition, as the key decision maker
behind Abu Dhabi's massive investment authority, he has directed billions of
dollars into the purchase of U.S. Treasury assets, thus allowing for lower
interest rates, which in turn helps American consumers.
In the combustible landscape of the Middle East, the United States is
fortunate to have a good friend and ally in Abu Dhabi.