The Rashomon Effect: U.S.-Gulf Relations After Camp David Summit

The Rashomon Effect: U.S.-Gulf Relations After Camp David Summit
U.S. President Barack Obama with officials from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Camp David, Maryland, May 14, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s iconic 1950 film, “Rashomon,” four people witness a crime outside the gates of Kyoto. When called on to testify in court, each has a distinctly different version of the events, and even different ideas of who the guilty party is. The Rashomon effect, as this phenomenon is often called, was in evidence this month, when reports leading up to and following the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit earlier this month produced wildly divergent assessments, from total failure to “better than expected.”

There’s a danger of imbuing too much importance to the summit itself, which is only one small step in a very long saga, one that may soon be superseded by other regional dramas and transactions. But parsing the event is useful in part because it captures the subtle and often contradictory ways the United States and the GCC find themselves entwined in each other’s national security policies. In addition, studying President Barack Obama’s message to the Arab leaders, as well as their reactions, can illuminate some of the dynamics likely to prevail at least until the end of the Obama presidency.

The summit, which began in Washington on May 13 and moved to the Camp David presidential retreat the following day, was an American initiative to engage the six countries of the GCC after the successful completion of a draft plan on Iran’s nuclear activities. That draft could lead to a formal agreement between Tehran and the international community by mid-year. It was no surprise that the Gulf leaders were not convinced that the proposed agreement would resolve their deep, virtually existential worries about Iran’s strategic intentions; Washington and the other parties to the nuclear negotiations were well aware that building confidence in Israel and Arab capitals was an essential next step.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.