Trump’s risky Middle East strategy

“It’s been a head-spinning few days for U.S. policy
in the Middle East,” said Robert Malley in The
Washington Post. Last week, Saudi Arabia and
four other Arab nations “launched a diplomatic
assault on their Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar,”
implementing a travel blockade against the tiny,
gas-rich sheikhdom over its alleged support for
terrorism. But as U.S. State Department officials
rushed to quell the growing crisis, President
Trump undercut their efforts by blatantly siding
with the Saudis—even taking credit for the rift
by tweeting that his recent Middle East trip was
“already paying off.” Trump is right about one
thing, said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine
.com. Qatar is a “problematic ally,” with ties to
terrorist groups. But so are the Saudis and the
Pakistanis, and Qatar has allowed the U.S. to station
nearly 11,000 soldiers at the Al Udeid Air
Base for the war on ISIS. This delicate situation
requires “carefully calibrated diplomacy, not social
media grandstanding.”
Actually, it was about time someone called out
Qatar for its “opportunistic, two-faced policy,”
said Joshua Block in the Los Angeles Times. Qatar
likes to present itself as a modernizing force in the
Middle East, exemplified by its successful bid for
the 2022 World Cup and its support for the 2011
Arab Spring. But “behind the polished façade of
luxury shopping malls lies a dark reality.” Qatar
uses its vast petro-wealth to finance terrorism—
sending millions to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood,
and Salafi jihadist groups. True, but if terrorism
is the issue, said The Washington Post in
an editorial, why is Trump so unequivocal in his
support for Saudi Arabia, which has “fostered the
spread of Islamist extremism across the world”?
This is a highly complex situation—and it’s clear
Trump “has no idea what he’s doing,” said Ross
Douthat in The New York Times. The Saudis and
their allies are punishing Qatar for its friendly
relationship with Iran, their Shiite rival for
regional dominance. The Saudis and Iranians are
already staging proxy wars in Syria and Yemen,
and the blockade of Qatar could turn into an
“Austria-and-Serbia-in-1914 confrontation,” escalating
into a major regional war. Buttered up by
all that “glad-handing and orb-stroking” during
his recent Saudi trip, Trump has given the Saudis
a “green light” to do whatever they want. “The
entire Middle East is on the verge of its own version
of a European Great War”—and Trump is
egging the combatants on.

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