Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Qatar? Where's That? UPDATE

Big news yesterday: Five Sunni Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates) cut their ties with Qatar, a Sunni Arab nation. Is it a big deal? It was a little hard to tell yesterday. The main element in several stories was that the United States has a major military base there and that the embargo and broken relations with Qatar could affect U.S. operations elsewhere in the ME and Africa.

Today Fred Kaplan at Slate reviewed the issues among the 5+1, and also reported what was missing from yesterday's stories (or at least I missed it). Trump was the cause: "tensions between Qatar and the other Arab countries have been simmering for nearly a decade, Trump—perhaps accidentally—triggered this new escalation."

How? "Trump thought he would unify and strengthen the Sunni leaders when he spoke to them in Saudi Arabia last month..... What Trump clearly did not foresee was that his speech would also deepen a wedge among the Sunnis—and, possibly, intensify the conflicts in the region."

Obama kept lines open to all six nations, declining to make the U.S. a party to their many  quarrels. Now Trump stepped in and made the U.S. a party. Why? Was it accidental? If not, who pointed Trump in a direction that is likely to create more Middle East Muddle?

UPDATE: A terrorist attack in Tehran has been claimed by ISIS...the WashPost links it to

the Sunni-Shiite, Arab-Persian blow-up represented with the break between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

"The violence in Tehran added to swelling sense of bedlam and instability across the Persian Gulf region. In addition to the civil war raging in Yemen and the ongoing war in Iraq against the Islamic State militant group, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations announced this week they were severing virtually all ties with the government of Qatar because of what they said was Qatar’s support for terrorist groups.
The extraordinary rift between the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar showed the degree to which Iran’s increasingly muscular role in the region — including its intervention in Syria’s civil war — has stirred fury among its Arab rivals. Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have expressed growing anger at Qatar’s relatively cordial relations with Shiite Iran."

Part of the Trump stumble?


  1. It was clear during the campaign that Trump had no grasp of foreign policy issues. It has been clear since he was elected that he still has no grasp of complicated foreign policy issues.

    Trump is very easily manipulated. It has been widely reported that he is unable to sit through normal security and intelligence briefings. He refuses to read actual documents, and insists on bullet points and graphics/charts only, preferably limited to one page. He is known to walk out of briefings.

    The most likely scenario is that he was masterfully manipulated by the Saudis, who played to his preening ego. Then they probably suggested this course of action against Qatar and he amiably agreed, without consulting anyone who has an understanding of the complexities. One of his obvious weaknesses, very apparent before the election, is that not only is he poorly educated on complex policy issues, he thinks his grasp is greater than it is - after all, he does watch cable news every day! Another obvious characteristic, dangerous in the Pres. of the US, is his impulsiveness, especially when combined with his manipulability, his failure to grasp the complexities of international policy, and his refusal to study the policy briefs that most presidents study in depth.

  2. The NYTimes has taken up the story. Apparently the State Department and the Pentagon were and are opposed.

    Quotes from a raft of Trump-appointed officials.

    Plus: "[S]several Defense Department officials said that Mr. Trump’s tweets had undercut the Pentagon, particularly given how crucial Al Udeid base is to the war against the Islamic State."

    The Times link in Bitly form: http://nyti.ms/2ry4xyN

  3. It's possible that Trump was manipulated, but just as likely that he blundered into it on his own. Here is where we need some skilled diplomats to smooth things over. But as the Slate article pointed out, the government is short staffed for that kind of thing because Trump has not filled many positions.

  4. I think Pres Trump wanted to satisfy his base that he went to tell the Arab world what's what. As a result he barged into an area so full of trip wires and booby traps that he was bound to set something off just by walking in the door. He was warned, but he doesn't take advice or direction.

    I sometimes think he might better have gone to Jordan, a poor country that has taken in huge numbers of Syrian refugees. What if he had said that Jordan was an inspiration for the region, applying the best traditions of Islamic hospitality and charity to a beleaguered people, and he was pledging incentives to Arab states willing to assist Jordan?

    I realize foreign policy is about manipulating areas where we have interests, but if we were going to bungle, we might as well have done it while applauding someone's humanitarian efforts.

  5. Katherine, Yeah, I like blundered as the explanation better than manipulated. It is unclear to me whether Trumpoleon is aware that we have more than 10,000 troops in Qatar running the air war in Syria and Iraq. Rex Tillerson, who is aware, was offering to mediate while the twit was tweeting his good-riddance tweets.

    You have to wonder how long Tillerson (ad Mattis) will put up with having their labors undercut by ignorant tweets during the boss's morning TV survey. Or how long the solicitor general will put up with him feeding tweet evidence to opponents of his Travel Ban-dammit that is supposed to be passed off as a pause for vetting. Or how long his invitation to visit England will stay open with even Mrs. May saying he is an ignorant boob. I noticed that Kellyanne ("ignore the tweets; report the official policies") Conway's husband turned down the opportunity to serve the world's greatest self-promoter in a high level job. Will Sean Spicer ever find work again after what he has put himself through?

    1. Kellyanne & Family: Her husband having turned down the prize and honor of working in the Justice Department (Civil Rights Division) was busy tweeting warnings about Trump's tweets undermining the travel ban appeal to the SC.

      What will go first? The marriage or the move back to NJ?

  6. JR: Great idea about a Jordan visit. Jordan not only took in Syrians, but after the 1967 war took in Palestinians (who are still there, except two generations on).

    I don't need to foam at the mouth on Trump's blundering and blunderbuss ideas, but!!!!***###$$$%%% idiot!

    What will the military honchos, McMaster and Mathes have to say (and do) about this? It undermines U.S. diplomatic and military policy in the region (the latter not necessarily being all that great!). McMaster wrote a famous book taking the military of the Vietnam era to task for not speaking "truth to power." Is he going to step up? If not here, where?

  7. A bit of topic but related. A story on TPM repeats a Yahoo news story about law firms refusing to represent Trump in the Russia investigations. All very DC. But one of the reasons for the rejection is reported to be "Going Rogue on a Whim," is that a title for a book/movie/poem? Or what.
    TPM link: http://bit.ly/2r4fpAY

    1. that is "off" topic, first line.

    2. One of my colleagues is an attorney and a Republican. He agrees that Trump would be a nightmare client. He said most lawyers would, at minimum, insist he stop tweeting.

    3. And they should insist on an upfront HEFTY retainer, with the balance due to be put into an escrow account.

    4. And hefty payments to their pensions since they'll never work again, if they work for Trump.

      On the same wave length, I am curious whether Trump's FBI appointee, who kept NJ Gov. Chris Christie from being tried for "Bridgegate," will pass muster in his confirmation hearings. Two of Christie's deputies have been convicted and sentenced for same.

  8. This was discussed during the White House Press Briefing today - several reporters asked about it, starting at about 10:10 into the briefing.

  9. "What Trump clearly did not foresee ..."

    To "foresee" implies some kind of thought process. This is Trumplethinskin, remember?