On February 22, 2017, the World Affairs Council – Washington,
DC hosted an Author Series event with Dr. Roby C. Barrett to explore
and discuss his new book, “The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony: Arabs,
Iranians, and the West in Conflict”. Dr. Barrett is a scholar and Gulf expert
with the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC as well as a Senior Fellow at
the Joint Special Operations University of the US Special Operations Command. Dr.
Barret’s presentation covered the historical complexities of the various Gulf
states and emphasized that how one
thinks about the Gulf is just as important as what he or she thinks about it. Dr. Barrett believes that one should view a subject from
“their” perspective rather than through the lens of Western prejudice.
Dr. Barrett explained that he wrote his book with the goal
of creating a “reference work” that will be as relevant twenty five years in
the future as it is presently. Others have previously failed in this endeavor,
he said, because they focused solely on the recent history of the Gulf states,
rather than taking a deeper look at the characteristics that have defined each
individual country throughout its existence.
Dr. Barrett provided
this example: While it is true that the Gulf states are all Muslim nations,
Wahhabi reforms in Saudi Arabia in 1744 resulted in a different ideology than
that of Kuwait or Iran. These ideological differences are the driving factors
in the domestic and international politics of the region, and a deep analysis
of how those differences formed throughout each country’s history is critical
in studying the present and in predicting the future.
Looking at history, Dr. Barrett explained, there are three
different polities represented by the Gulf states have taken shape over vast
periods of time. First, traditional authoritarian monarchy has become a hallmark
of Saudi Arabian and Omani politics that predates oil as the stabilizing factor
in those countries. In contrast, the Iranian imperial system is historically
based upon an ideology backed by a core political-military elite. Finally, the
histories of nations such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq have been characterized by
“secular” dictatorships implemented by Western democracies pursuing a
Westphalian regional system that often results in failed states, Dr. Barrett
In a presentation full of detailed information and
historical analysis, Dr. Barret’s grand, overarching argument is this: you
cannot understand the present if you do not understand the past; and you cannot
possibly begin to fathom the future if you do not understand the present.
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