If one expects President Donald J. Trump to work to alleviate global tensions, one will undoubtedly be routinely disappointed. Perhaps the largest international challenge facing the American leader and former reality star, outside of the Korean peninsula, is the tiny Gulf state of Qatar. In early summer, a collection of regional powers, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia soon after Trump’s visit to the Kingdom, decided to alienate Qatar and severely hamper their economic and political influence upon the region. Despite the presence of the Al Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, Trump gleefully boasted of his role in constructing this international quarantine of Qatar. Perhaps the American president was unaware of the scope of his actions, but I believe that the New York-based businessman turned attempted statesman may learn of the consequences of this decision as the Gulf splinters into rigidly divided factions. Mr. Trump may only have to live with the ramifications of Qatar’s uncertain future for roughly three and half years, but the Gulf region, and without hyperbole, the world, will suffer indefinitely.
BACKGROUND in BRIEF
Iran is the cornerstone of Qatari isolation, as both share oil reserves, and Iran lays claim over Qatari islands. In an effort to visibly repeal or reverse all Obama-era decisions, Trump elected to marginalize Iran despite the historic nuclear agreement signed by the Shia-dominated nation and the United States. As a means of distancing himself and his party from all aspects of the Democratic (Obama) platform, the demotion of Qatar from a Gulf contributor to a perceived pariah was done as a show of pseudo-independent thought, but as Trump has demonstrated repeatedly since taking the oat of office, the President lacks the historic background knowledge to understand the future. Qatar‘s connection to Iran is political, religious, and economic, but most significantly in the eyes of America, Qatar’s leader Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani detailed his nations support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, two groups labeled as terror organizations by the U.S. The American government explains their support for Qatar’s isolation as a form of punishment for the culmination of years of support for these terror groups on behalf of the constitutional monarchy, yet when one considers the behaviors of other Gulf states defended by Trump, this disenfranchisement of Qatar seems hyperbolic. However, it stands, and there is no easy solution to this burgeoning crisis.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
What Saudi Arabia and their allies are attempting is a twenty-first century “Anaconda plan” in which the neighbors of Qatar are choking the nation off from relevance. The support for Saudi Arabia appears to be due largely to Trump’s contrarian nature and his economic dealings in the Kingdom rather than prudent political thought. Trump is hoping to reverse every possible decision from the past eight years and Qatar becomes a new pawn in this political chess game. What the billionaire reality star fails to recognize is how his behavior draws the Gulf closer to conflict and the potential for a regional catastrophe. Qatar will undoubtedly continue their support for the aforementioned groups, if not out of admiration, but now also perhaps out of spite. This alienation of Qatar risks conflating the region into a mass of teeming violence as Iran and Qatar draw lines between themselves and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, ironically enough, located in Doha.
POOR DECISION WITH WORSE TIMING
At a moment when the world collectively celebrates the ousting of the so-called Islamic State from Mosul, the timing of the Qatar isolation seems frighteningly shortsighted on all parts. The Gulf is a complicated collection of players, cultural identities, issues, histories, alliances, and needs, and the still simmering embers of the Arab Awakening provide more questions than answers about he direction of this most vital region. Iraq has generational rebuilding ahead of it, Yemen continues to be mired in a civil war that is sorely and ashamedly underreported, while Egypt and Turkey continue to wrestle with how their governments choose to define parameters of authority. In short, this is a period in which cooperation is particularly necessary and strong, articulate leadership is demanded. Sadly, neither of these traits is to be found. The isolation of Qatar and its apparently strained relationship with America does more than threaten Qatar’s stability, but risks the security of the Gulf.
Qatar must realize that it does bear some responsibility in inspiring the actions taken by their larger neighbors in this current crisis. Qatar has brazenly supported extremist Islamist organizations and has not deterred from this behavior. However, while Qatar must accept their role in the creation of this new crisis, the surrounding states, particularly the Saudi regime must scale back its demands of Qatar and work towards a cooperative, realistic conclusion. To demand the silencing of Al-Jazeera is an irrational request and such language stifles any form of reconciliation. Kuwait and Oman can play mediating roles, but this tension could be largely diffused by a calming American presence. However, with President Trump’s boasting of a one hundred billion dollar military agreement with Saudi Arabia and inflammatory tweets about Qatar, this scenario seems to be an impossibility at this time. Compound Trump’s erratic behavior and seemingly uncertain aptitude of the region in general with recent shake-ups in the White House, including the departure of highly controversial nationalists Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and the result is an American government that appears to be content to allow the Sunni and Shia forces to continue to engage in a high-sakes stare down contest in which, ultimately there will be no winner. Perhaps more logical heads and hands will emerge and some type of compromise can be struck; however, if this happens without America playing a role, it will be yet another indication of the fading significance of the United States at a time when the global community would benefit from their leadership.