DENVER- Applause rained down as Gregory Gause, professor of International Affairs and head of the International Affairs Department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University took the stage as the keynote speaker on Monday, May 2.
The Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver hosted an all day summit in conjunction with the Center for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida.
The focus of the summit was to explore issues relating to US-Iranian relations, as well as Saudi-Iranian relations and the subsequent impacts of these relations on the United States. Among the featured speakers were the esteemed Ambassador Christopher Hill, Mohsen Milani, Gregory Gause, Ambassador Gary Grappo, and Nader Hashemi.
The talk titled “US Policy, the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry & the Changing Geopolitics of the Middle East” was presented by Gause. The panel following his keynote presentation was presided over by Ambassador Grappo, and Milani. The panel was moderated by Danny Postel, associate director for the Center for Middle East Studies.
Gause began his talk on the Saudi-Iranian rivalry with bold assertions. He put forth that the Middle East is experiencing a “New Cold War”. He explained that this Cold War is “new”, because the Middle East experienced a Cold War during the Nasser era of 1956-1960s.
Gause referenced the crises that have devastated countries like Libya, Egypt, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. He attributed these crises to the “weakening and collapse of state authority”.
Gause claimed that the New Middle East Cold War is not a sectarian rivalry. He said that “the weakening and collapse of state authority afflicts places where there are no sectarian conflicts and where sectarianism does not drive politics.”
Gause framed the New Middle East Cold War as one between two competing regional powers: Iran and Saudi Arabia. He attributed the success that Iran has seen in the New Cold War to their money, connections, and loyal regional allies.
Gause pointed out that even though Saudi Arabia has more money than Iran, they have not had a definitive victory in the New Cold War because “Saudi Arabia doesn’t have troops to deploy outside their borders, and they don’t have reliable regional allies.”
“The United States is better at state-destroying than state-building,” Gause had to say on the role of the US in the New Middle East Cold War. “The inconsistent foreign policy is a product of Washington not sharing Saudi views of the regional crisis.”
“The United States is inconsistent because we don’t care about or understand the Sunni-Shia split,” Gause said. “Obama wants to limit Iranian regional primacy. He doesn’t want any country to become too powerful in the region-except for the US.”
Gause’s claims that there is a New Cold War brewing in the Middle East has been exhaustively researched and has academic clout. An animated speaker, Gause had little trouble conveying his perspective to a captivated audience.
The panel, consisting of Gause, Milani, and Ambassador Grappo, answered questions from both the moderator Postel, and the audience.
Ambassador Grappo concurred with Gause. “In the region, the US has always wanted to be the major power, and never wanted anyone to diminish this power.”
This lecture series was informative and well organized. While some may disagree on the nature of the New Middle East Cold War, Gause and the panelists put forth a convincing argument otherwise.