Arabs in the Gulf now see the United States as a weary but still comfortable eagle, sitting on his nest high above lesser creatures, balefully viewing the scene below him as not to his liking. His magnificent wings no longer soar him to greatness as he spreads them to shelter those below him. Occasionally he is seen as sending down a member from his aerie to offer protection he no longer knows how to supply, and to ask those feeding off the wealth of the land below him to give him tribute for past favors, thus providing for his continued comfort and security high above them. But he never seems willing to descend from his lofty perch to view the scene as those below him see it.
Given this allegorical bent, and the Oriental disposition to mystery and intrigue, the notions which rise to occupy the Arab mind should cause much concern from a Western point of view.
The sending of a Secretary Brown to Saudi Arabia to talk arms and military language (at a time the United States needs help with hostages in Iran and Russians in Afghanistan) or the sending of a Secretary Miller to Kuwait to suggest use of Kuwaiti money to bolster the US dollar -- such transparent visits to further United States "interest" are insulting to those who live here.
Why not, they ask, send a carefully chosen delegation from State, Defense, Treasury, Agriculture, and the private sector to travel the area, attempt to see it through the eyes of those who live here, and allow those who live here to better see the possible meeting ground between their needs and the needs of the West? Some suggest that such an approach, if seen as sincere, might do much in helping to understand the danger inherent in the broadening gap between the rulers and the ruled, to provide a basis for communication more helpful than a news column.
The unfolding events in this part of the world are seen by some here as a replay of the area's history when the Turks, the Romans, the French, the British used the region for their benefit. Today the Americans and the Russians are seen as assuming postures to allow themselves only one option in the area, if they are to avoid direct conflict: dividing the area between them. The Russians securing their energy needs for the future by domination over Iran, Syria, the Yemens, Oman, and areas yet to be decided; the Americans by control over Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; each ensuring its own needs and keeping a watchful eye on the other until some other arrangement tips the balance.
Other see United States policy in the area as having been dependent upon the Shah, Sadat, and Begin. The Shah has been toppled, Sadat is without friends, and Begin is beleaguered to the point of political vulnerability.
From some comes the intriguing suggestion that the Soviets, through their adventures in Afghanistan, will secure the Baluchistan corridor to the sea, be necessarily accepted by Iran which now has no military capability to defend itself, arrange for the release of the American hostages, and in one brilliant act of despotic generosity: (a) prove themselves the true power in the area, (b) mute American hostility, (c) establish control of Middle East oil.
As fanciful as these notions are, they are the utterances of heads of state, ministers, business giants, educators, and the average people who walk the streets.
The great gap between the high expectations for comfort, education, time for reflective praise and thanks to Allah for His goodness -- and the continued poverty, illiteracy, and sickness -- has not been bridged. The tremor of the uprising in Iran is being felt as a rumble throughout the Gulf, signifying the frustration of the people more than a search for a return to fundamentalist Shia religious ways.
The educated young people, those who have traveled and tasted the plums and sensed the problems of Western culture, are greatly disturbed by the increasing distance between the people and the rulers.
Yet all -- at all levels of society -- see the United States as the culprit, because it has promised so much and provided so little.
Human rights, as practiced by the United States, is seen as highly selective: appropriate for American hostages in Iran, American blacks, Israelis but never applicable to the million and a half Palestinians who have been deprived of their homeland.
To a man, woman, and child, they believe that as Dr. Michael Hudson has written recently, "The only road to Gulf security is through Palestine." There is a clear preference in the Gulf to travel along that road with the United States -- but travel it they will -- reluctantly with the Russians, if necessary.
When attempts are made to define the specifics of the route they are not productive. The initiative is now up to the United States. Suggestions of a general nature are made that it might prove helpful if the United States would make deliberate efforts to determine the total needs of the area, efforts similar to those of other major nations -- Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.
There are hesitant thoughts that a meeting between Secretary Vance of the US and Mr. Arafat of the PLO might mute the strident voices which warn of US hypocrisy. Yet, when asked if the PLO is the only route toward a Palestinian solution, the universal reply is: Such answers belong to the Palestinians.
The scene has changed in the Gulf during the past few years. In the past those who believed in the strength and innate wisdom of the US system kept alive a willingness to try and understand its policy toward Israel. Today such views are not to be found. In their stead are frustrated former US advocates who are seen in their countries as having been wrong. Their position then becomes one of bitter disappointment at best, and active US opposition at worst.
If the shadow of the eagle as it falls on the Gulf is to be seen again with happiness and a sincere voice of welcome, it must spend more time here, and above all it must be seen as bringing news of effective communication with its "friends" in Palestine.
If it does, the probability is high for unified support of United States interests here. If it does not -- and very soon -- the potential for chaos will be realized, as modernization conflicts with fundamentalism, as raw power is used, as a search for new "friends" becomes inevitable.
If the latter comes about, the blame will fall somewhere in the shadow of the eagle.