WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s stance on the Gulf diplomatic crisis “slams the door” on Qatar’s ambitions, an analyst noted, after the US President said the move to cut ties with Doha could “be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.”
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and several other states earlier this week moved to sever diplomatic ties with Doha over its alleged support for extremist groups.
Trump took credit for the ongoing debate in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) over funding of extremism, tweeting Tuesday morning that “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”
Ninety minutes later in another tweet, Trump praised the Saudi push to squeeze its neighbor: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”
Trump added: “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
In typical Trump fashion, the tweets generated fervent social-media debate about the US role in the standoff. Geopolitically, the tweets only add pressure on Qatar, according to regional experts.
“Trump’s tweets slam the door shut on the Qatar’s final hope: That American mediation would give it a face-saving way out without having to make too many compromises,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Ibish told Arab News that Trump’s position puts the Arab states behind the steering wheel. “They are telling Qatar that it must choose, while being backed up by the American president,” the analyst said. As for Doha it “can now either back down or decide to become a full-blown client of Iran and hope for the best,” Ibish added.
Trump entering the fray “may force Qatar to recalibrate its stance,” a former Gulf official told Arab News. “Ever since the beginning of the crisis, the Qataris have been trumpeting American (statements) seemingly praising Qatar’s assistance in the fight against terror and military cooperation between the two countries,” the former official, who is following the crisis closely, said.
“American support was a key factor in (Doha’s) initial defiance. The president’s tweets are clearly leaning in the direction of the Saudi-led bloc, which is very concerning for Qatar,” he added.
Ibish said the US position makes “Doha completely trapped and even its impressive media and soft-power arsenal cannot do much to relieve it.” If the standoff is not resolved, Ibish pointed to further escalatory options for the Saudi-led bloc, “such as expulsion from the GCC and even an effort at regime change.” The expert concluded that “Doha will soon have no choice but to concede and shift policies, though how much and for how long remains to be seen.”
A senior GCC official told Arab News that “the only way this ends is if Qatar demonstrably changes course.” The official stressed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE “have been trying for years and only gotten token moves and denials from Qatar.” He added: “Every time Qatar sensed the pressure was off it went back to old habits.”
The US Defense Department reiterated, however, that “there has been no impact on our operations either in Qatar or with regards to airspace permission around it and we don’t anticipate there will be,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in a briefing.
The former Gulf official did not anticipate a blowback on US-Qatari defense relations. “I don’t think the Qataris want to risk their defense ties with the Americans, especially now... the Pentagon and the State Department may step in to diffuse any tension with the Qataris.”
The timing with start of the Raqqa operation in Syria “raises concern among US military commanders about the impact of this crisis and the president’s tweet on their ability to fly sorties from Al Udeid” Air Base.