- Frida Ghitis: Qatar’s isolation by its neighbors means the tiny Gulf nation will need to pick a side to survive and thrive
- Similarly, the US has to define a unified foreign policy in the region, writes Ghitis
The Tehran attack comes as another political battle boils over in the oil-rich Gulf. Iran is not directly involved, but Tehran is one of the reasons for what has erupted into one of the most intense political feuds pitting Gulf Arabs against each other.
At the epicenter of what is a very serious political crisis stands Qatar, accused by its Arab neighbors of all manner of misdeeds — including supporting terrorism — and now facing punishing sanctions. Qatar denies the accusations.
Qatar, to be sure, has played a dual role — helping fight terrorism on one hand, while backing groups with extremist ideology on the other. But now Qatar will have to decide where it stands.
And the United States will have to address a similar issue. While President Donald Trump’s tweets indicate his support for Qatar’s sudden isolation, the disciplined and diplomatic voices of the State Department and Pentagon indicate otherwise. But Washington needs to speak with one unified voice. The contradictory voices within the administration are not only sending confusing messages, they are projecting an image of chaos in US foreign policy.
So how did this drama unfold?
Despite the fervent claims of Qatari officials that the offending speech never happened, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, reject the explanation.
There’s a reason for that.
The content of the speech that Qatar says never happened echoes Qatar’s foreign policy track record. From Doha, Qatar’s rulers have spent years conducting policies that are often at odds with the GCC and with the United States.
Qatar has long acted as a maverick, leveraging its huge wealth from natural gas exports to punch above its weight on the global scene.
But Qatar has maintained good relations with Washington, hosting the massive American base al-Udeid, from where 11,000 US and coalition forces launch military operations against targets in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, what’s perhaps more upsetting to Saudi Arabia and its allies today are Doha’s ties with Tehran at a time when animosity between Iran and Gulf Arabs is greater than ever.
But then Trump started tweeting, directly contradicting what appeared to be American policy. He seemed to praise the sanction and take credit for it, saying his visit to Saudi Arabia was, “already paying off,” and noting that when he urged an end to funding radical ideology, “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”
When told about Trump’s tweets, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, appeared stunned
Terrorism, diplomatic battles and outright war are already roiling the region. The outcome of the Qatar crisis could tip the balance with respect to Iran and ISIS, and it will affect US and global security for years to come.
But it is America’s reaction to the crisis that is showing another, even greater threat to US security — the lack of a coherent position on foreign policy crises. Not only are America’s purported allies divided, but it looks as if the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department are also on different sides.
However, there may be a glimmer of hope. On Wednesday, Trump spoke to Qatar’s Emir about finding a solution to the unfolding diplomatic crisis. Following the call, Qatar’s government issued a statement to CNN, saying that the President had “expressed readiness to find a solution… and stressed his keenness that the Gulf remains stable.”