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US and Saudi Effort to Isolate Qatar Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump’s decision to back Saudi Arabia’s attempt to isolate Qatar on the world stage is already backfiring in a number of ways.

In the first instance, it was clearly not supposed to be official U.S. policy to explicitly support Saudi Arabia against Qatar considering Qatar hosts America’s largest base in the Middle East. Qatar has also invested billions of dollars in the United States. Unsurprisingly, it has been speculated that Trump was not even aware of these major factors.

What this reveals is that the United States has, in many respects, become a client state of Saudi Arabia. If you don’t believe this statement, consider that in handling the political fallout of his much-publicized tweet  — in which he appeared to take credit for the Saudi-Qatar fallout and labeled Qatar a sponsor of terrorism — Trump gave the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a phone call on Wednesday to offer “to help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary.”

Saudi Arabia’s response, courtesy of its foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, was to state the following:

We have not asked for mediation, we believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”

The Saudis’ refusal to accept Washington’s mediation proposal comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia’s ridiculous 24-hour ultimatum to Qatar. Essentially, Saudi Arabia is telling the United States (and the world) that they have the inherent right to bully a non-compliant state into submission, and that it is none of Washington’s business if it chooses to do so.

On one hand, this geopolitical rift tells us a lot about Washington’s deep and dark relationship with Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the move to isolate Qatar is also backfiring because, presumably, it was intended to send Qatar a message to cut its ties with Iran, a long-time regional adversary of Saudi Arabia. If anything, it has produced the opposite effect.

Iran immediately came to Qatar’s defense and expressed its support for the Gulf state after Saudi Arabia announced its decision to cut ties with Qatar, stating the sanctions were “an inefficient, blameworthy, rejected, and unacceptable move.

As noted by the Financial Times, Iran has also offered Qatar the use of three of its ports to import supplies, while the rest of the Gulf States have attempted to impose a blockade on Qatar’s imports. As explained by FT, only 16 percent of food supplies come into Qatar through the countries that have imposed the blockade.

“It’s replaceable and has been replaced in one day,” Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed said. “They [Qataris] can survive at the same standard forever.”

The Saudis cannot push Qatar into a war against Iran anytime soon, largely because the two countries share a very lucrative natural gas field. In their hasty strategy, Saudi Arabia is only pushing Qatar closer towards the Islamic Republic.

Further, Al-Jazeera noted that Turkey’s parliament has ratified military deals allowing their troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar. It has been reported that as many as 3,000 troops may be deployed there to bolster the current number of a mere 200 Turkish troops. Ankara has had a base in Qatar since 2014, and Turkey’s parliament has decided to strengthen its presence there, as well as to sign another accord between Qatar and Turkey that focuses on military training cooperation.

Turkey, for its part, has, for quite some time, signaled its intent to increase its cooperation with Iran and Russia, particularly in Syria. In doing so, it has moved further and further away from official U.S. policy, and now, Qatar seems all but set to jump on this newly formed bandwagon. Turkey and Qatar already share a common interest in backing the Muslim Brotherhood, something the Saudis oppose.

Further, on Wednesday night, Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah flew to Qatar in an effort to mediate the complicated issue.

Apparently, Trump’s recent sword dancing in Saudi Arabia and his heavily anti-Iran speech on Islam — designed to lick the boots of the Saudi overlords who have all too often guided U.S. foreign policy in the past — have given the Saudis the impression of an unlimited green light that allows them to launch a policy of their own against other key U.S. allies in the region. Remember that the last time a U.S.-allied leader thought he had been given a green light to implement a similar policy, he was set up for almost two decades of war, sanctions, and his inevitable hanging.

Anyone who believes the UAE’s ambassador to Russia’s official justification that the real reason for this denigration in relations is Qatar’s coordination with al-Qaeda in Syria probably deserves what is coming to them. Not only was al-Qaeda initially a Saudi and U.S. construct, but Saudi Arabia is also still backing al-Qaeda on multiple conflicts across the globe.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with geopolitics.

However, the strategy may ultimately shoot the U.S. in the foot as America faces the loss of yet another vital ally in the region. It may also push Qatar closer towards America’s adversaries. While Qatar would probably like to maintain a friendly relationship with its neighbors, there is no practicable way it can concede to Saudi Arabia’s demands to cut all ties with Iran or close down its most prominent international news network — no matter how many cyber attacks are thrown Al-Jazeera’s way.

As such, Qatar just announced that it refuses to “surrender” to the Saudi-led assault on its independent decision-making and will most likely continue to bond with other adversaries.

As more of these alliances shift, the balance of the chessboard may begin to turn somewhat. This could make a global confrontation less desirable to those who previously held the balance of power as the number of adversaries slowly but surely begins to mount against the U.S. and its allies.

It’s time to face the facts. Countries cannot be bullied into submission, as Saudi Arabia has observed — and apparently ignored — after relentlessly bombing Yemen’s civilian population for over two years. Countries also can’t be realistically isolated on the world stage forever, as we saw after the apparent success of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Surely, diplomacy is always the better option, as Saudi Arabia and its allies will continue to learn the hard way.

Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law. Contact Darius: Support Darius' work on Patreon:

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