Sword Dancing into Trouble

It's being called "the most serious crisis in the Gulf States in decades." So said the Council on Foreign Relations' Robert McMahon at a recent Council panel discussion on renewed tensions between Qatar and other Gulf States. Well, let's face it, the conflict is really between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

There are several causes of this most recent and decidedly dangerous flap. First, Saudi Arabia is miffed that the independent-minded Qatar is not falling in line with its usual dictates, as do its vassal-state Bahrain and the Emirates. The Saudis blame Qatar for inciting and funding terrorism in the region and beyond, most particularly, terrorism aimed at Riyadh. Sure, it's unequivocally true that our ally Qatar is a state sponsor of terrorism. Its nefarious deeds pale in comparison, however, to the magnitude, perversity and longevity of our ally Saudi Arabia's support for terrorism - often perpetrated against Americans.

These tensions also come in clear recognition that Riyadh - to whom the U.S. sells massive stockpiles of what the current Oval Office occupant calls "beautiful weapons" - is among the planet's most vicious violators of human rights.

Next, in causal terms, when a President of the United States sword-dances, orbs and blunders his way into the Saudi relationship, well, he gets taken advantage of by the cunning Royal Family. Conveniently, Riyadh saw the President's recent embrace as vindication of their human rights crimes and downright Medievalism as well as an opportunity to go after Qatar. The Council's Steven Cook said the President's Saudi visit several weeks ago quite simply "emboldened the Saudis."

The Council's Philip Gordon said the U.S. response to this brewing problem has been "confused and chaotic." After all, the President and his Secretary of State have taken opposite positions on the subject. Please know that Secretary of State Tillerson's more balanced, nuanced view is the correct position. It appears that the Qatari Royal Family simply didn't ask the President for the next sword dance. Nonetheless, the U.S. is still gleefully selling Doha lots of 'beautiful weapons," too.

The President immediately took the Saudi side on the issue, surely because they had flattered him. In alienating Doha via Twitter, he simply must not have known, remembered or cared that Qatar hosts 11,000 U.S. forces as well as strategic air- and ground-based assets.

The overarching challenge here is that the U.S. is the only nation that can quietly mediate and defuse these tensions. Regrettably, U.S. policy is too often clumsy these days and incapable of being quiet. As Cook added, success here "will require nuanced diplomacy, but the Administration has not shown itself capable of nuanced diplomacy. In fact, the President's actions have inflamed the crisis." Welcome to 2017.

Image Credit: Ramazan Turgut