Qatar: Trump’s risky Middle East strategy
“It’s been a head-spinning few days for U.S. policy in the Middle East,” said Robert Malley in The Washington Post. Last week, Saudi Arabia and four other Arab nations “launched a diplomatic assault on their Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar,” implementing a travel blockade against the tiny, gas-rich sheikhdom over its alleged support for terrorism. But as U.S. State Department officials rushed to quell the growing crisis, President Trump undercut their efforts by blatantly siding with the Saudis—even taking credit for the rift by tweeting that his recent Middle East trip was “already paying off.” Trump is right about one thing, said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com. Qatar is a “problematic ally,” with ties to terrorist groups. But so are the Saudis and the Pakistanis, and Qatar has allowed the U.S. to station nearly 11,000 soldiers at the Al Udeid Air Base for the war on ISIS. This delicate situation requires “carefully calibrated diplomacy, not social media grandstanding.”
Actually, it was about time someone called out Qatar for its “opportunistic, two-faced policy,” said Joshua Block in the Los Angeles Times. Qatar likes to present itself as a modernizing force in the Middle East, exemplified by its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup and its support for the 2011 Arab Spring. But “behind the polished façade of luxury shopping malls lies a dark reality.” Qatar uses its vast petro-wealth to finance terrorism— sending millions to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafi jihadist groups. True, but if terrorism is the issue, said The Washington Post in an editorial, why is Trump so unequivocal in his support for Saudi Arabia, which has “fostered the spread of Islamist extremism across the world”?
This is a highly complex situation—and it’s clear Trump “has no idea what he’s doing,” said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. The Saudis and their allies are punishing Qatar for its friendly relationship with Iran, their Shiite rival for regional dominance. The Saudis and Iranians are already staging proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, and the blockade of Qatar could turn into an “Austria-and-Serbia-in-1914 confrontation,” escalating into a major regional war. Buttered up by all that “glad-handing and orb-stroking” during his recent Saudi trip, Trump has given the Saudis a “green light” to do whatever they want. “The entire Middle East is on the verge of its own version of a European Great War”—and Trump is egging the combatants on. ■