Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 3:03 PM

Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Messy Middle East Messier

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

President Trump received near-universal praise for his state visit to Saudi Arabia in late May. But I found this praise utterly bemusing and delineated the reasons why in “WTF: Saudis Giving Islamophobic Trump the Royal Treatment,” May 20, 2017.

Evidently, those praising him didn’t bother to ask why he made this cradle of terrorism his first trip abroad. Trump made fighting terrorism one of the hallmarks of his presidency after all. Which made Saudi Arabia an oxymoronic choice – to put it charitably.

Terrorism experts will tell you it was no accident that almost all of the 9/11 terrorists hailed from this country. Even I am on record denouncing it for proselytizing its extremist Wahhabi doctrine. This, for example, was the essence of “Bush’s Smiling Assassin Jailed – Indefinitely,” March 2, 2005.

So Nixon to China this was not; more like Chamberlain to Germany.

In any event, Trump seemed determined to snub Canada and Mexico by making his inaugural trip to a country in this region. But Qatar would have been a far better choice: it not only hosts the largest American military base in the region, but is also the only country there that shows any interest in forming a Western-style democracy.

In fact, this latter point has made Qatar a pain in the ass to regional autocracies, of which Saudi Arabia is the de facto godfather.

This brings me to the chaos Trump left in his bull-in-a-China-shop wake.

The Arab world’s biggest powers cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran, and reopening a festering wound two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for Muslim states to fight terrorism. …

‘What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance,’ tweeted Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, referring to Trump’s joining in a traditional dance with the Saudi king at the meeting.

Closing all transport links with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from landing and forbade them from crossing their air space.

(Reuters, June 5, 2017)

Nothing indicates how clueless Trump was/is about the trouble he caused quite like the, well, oxymoronic way he responded to this blockade.

Last week, Trump criticized Qatar for funding extremist ideology after Saudi Arabia and several of its allies on Monday cut diplomatic ties with the small Gulf monarchy, ostensibly over its alleged funding of terrorist organizations. …

But Emadi said Trump had struck a different tone during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia three weeks ago. ‘He started his speech by really praising Qatar,’ Emadi said, adding, ‘Qatar is really an important partner and actually combating terrorism and money laundering and the war.’

(CNBC, June 11, 2017)

That’s vintage Trump, talking out of both sides of his mouth and projecting onto others faults that lie elsewhere. But the projection’s the thing here.

He does this mostly to deflect blame from himself, of course, But, in this case, he’s projecting blame on Qatar for funding an Islamic extremist ideology, which Saudi Arabia not only funds more than any other country but actually founded. Mind you, the only credible reason anyone can give for his antic targeting of Qatar is that Saudi Arabia feted him like an Arab king during his visit.

Qatar shouldn’t take this too personally, however. After all, this is the same fickle president who, just recently, was patting himself on the back for getting China to apply unprecedented pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear program. Yet only days later he was accusing China of stabbing him in the back for not applying enough pressure. And it’s only a matter of time before he swings back and forth in this vein again … and again.

Meanwhile, it is also vintage Trump to leave it to one of his minions to clean up his mess. That dubious honor falls in this case on his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

Wednesday’s trip to Saudi Arabia is the third leg of Tillerson’s four-day trip to the Gulf aimed at helping find a solution to the ongoing dispute in the region. …

On June 22, the Saudi-led group issued a 13-point list of demands, including the shutdown of Al Jazeera, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country, as a prerequisite to lift the sanctions.

[Qatar] rejected the demands and the countries now consider the list ‘null and void.’

(Al Jazeera, July 12, 2017)

I fear this dispute will prove every bit as intractable as the greater Sunni-Shia conflict, which Muslims have been trying to resolve (with intermittent Western intervention) for over a thousand years.

Incidentally, ever since the Reagan administration, the United States has rated the success of these interventions by the number of times secretaries of state shuttled between the warring or disputing parties. So beware when you hear Trump, in due course, touting the success of Tillerson’s “shuttle diplomacy.”

Frankly, the only suspense this dispute holds is seeing what becomes of US relations with this Saudi-led group if it persists in blockading Qatar; you know, the way the United States blockaded Cuba for over 50 years. Because, as indicated above, the United States has far more invested in Qatar than in any of the countries in this group, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt.

For the record, just as I stood with Cuba, I am standing with Qatar. And this take from the Arab street only reinforces my stand:

There has been a stark gap between the clear recklessness shown by the blockading countries and the prudence and emphasis on diplomacy shown by the State of Qatar.

Whether it will do Emir Tamim and his government any good or not remains to be seen, but they deserve our admiration and support for standing up for freedom of thought; emphasising the ongoing importance of Palestine to the Muslim world; and defending the integrity of Qatar’s sovereignty.

(The New Arab, July 12, 2017)

Finally, Trump made quite a show, during the early days of his presidency, of blaming Obama for leaving him a “mess” on the world stage. But even then he was unwittingly projecting blame for what he has now done.

After all, this Qatari mess in the Middle East only compounds the messes he has already made: namely, throughout the Americas by threatening to build that wall and withdraw from NAFTA; throughout Europe by undermining the foundation of NATO; throughout Asia by withdrawing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); and throughout the world by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. Idiot!

Related commentaries:
Saudi’s giving Trump royal treatment
Bush’s smiling assassin
Sunni-Shia conflict

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