The Project on International Policy Attitudes just released an intriguing result from its multi-national surveys of international public opinion: outside of the United States, there isn't a lot of support for U.S. bases in the Gulf.
As the above chart shows, 70% of Americans think that bases in the Gulf are a fine idea. The UK and France are roughly evenly split (43-39 and 41-43, respectively), but 52% of Germans are opposed. Only 4% of Russians and 8% of Chinese approve -- ah, the smell of great power politics in the air. And then you get to the Arab and Muslim world: 11% of Jordanians approve, 6% of Turks, 4% of Palestinians, 5% of Indonesians, and a statistically insignificant number of Egyptians. A pity they didn't (couldn't?) ask the question in the Gulf itself... would be interesting to hear what the Kuwaitis, Qataris, Bahrainis -- or Iraqis -- in question have said about their "protectors".
Even allowing for the problems with such opinion surveys, these numbers should be sobering -- especially as they track with lots of other surveys about regional views of American foreign policy. Americans generally believe that their military presence in the Gulf represents an "international public good", protecting energy supplies and global stability, and consider their military hegemony to be cushioned by "soft power" through which American leadership is perceived as benevolent and desirable. Most of the world's publics, especially Arab and Muslim publics, don't seem to agree. Public diplomacy -- and grand strategy -- need to take such findings a bit more seriously.
UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman asks WorldPublicOpinion.org why they didn't survey the Gulf - check out the answer. Regarding his question about who else will guard the shipping lanes, well, India and Qatar did just sign that big security cooperation deal. Not that I think the changing of the guard will (or should) happen any time soon, but a lot of those Gulf countries do seem to be looking East towards the big energy markets lately... and historically speaking, great powers do seem to have a way of seeing the need to protect their interests abroad.
TWO MORE UPDATES: Right on cue, "A vice
foreign minister and a leading naval strategist were quoted in Chinese
state media on Wednesday as saying that Beijing was close to mounting a
naval mission in the gulf." Great powers, state interests, and all that.
Meanwhile, Jon Alterman reads the NIC's Global Trends 2025 report and concludes (no idea how to find a direct link, sorry, but will add when one appears) that Gulf leaders reading the tea leaves are likely to conclude that "the United States sees their region become far less central to global security than it is now... [which] indicates a far weaker U.S. security commitment to the Gulf come 2025. Put bluntly, the report suggests that over the next two decades, the U.S. security commitment to the Gulf will shift from being a constant to a variable." He therefore expects Gulf leaders to rationally start looking around, "diversifying their strategic relationships" -- most likely with France, Russia, China, and India -- and seeking an accommodation with Iran.