Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House Divisions

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to halt their blockade of Qatar.

“There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade,” he said.

In addition, he worried that the dispute would undermine the struggle against ISIL (ISIS, Daesh): “The blockade is also impairing U.S. and other international business activities in the region and has created a hardship on the people of Qatar and the peoples whose livelihoods depend on commerce with Qatar. The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS.”

The US flies sorties against ISIL and the Taliban from al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where 10,000 US servicemen are based. Saudi Arabia’s blockade of food deliveries across Saudi territory could affect these US personnel. Qatar has been happy to offer the US these facilities despite the possibility of a terrorist backlash against the government. In contrast, Saudi Arabia has done almost nothing to help roll up ISIL.

Then, just a a little while later, Tillerson’s boss Donald J. Trump said at a press briefing, “The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level . . , So we had a decision to make, do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action. We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided … the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding.” Trump went on to claim that he had helped plan out the anti-Qatar smear campaign with his Saudi hosts when he was in Riyadh recently. His senior staff in contrast maintained that Qatar never came up.

Some takeaways:

1. The US has two foreign policies, that of the former Exxon-Mobil CEO, an old Middle East hand, and that of a Brooklyn real estate shyster and foreign policy neophyte.

2. Fighting ISIL is not in fact a top priority for Trump.

3. There is no particular reason for Qatar to continue offering a military base to a foreign superpower showing extreme hostility to it.

Qatar does not in fact fund terrorism as we ordinarily understand the word. Trump is probably alleging that the small peninsular power funds the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not generally seen as a terrorist group (it gave up violence in 1972) except by the Egyptian government and by Saudi Arabia.

Qatar does also fund some of the rebel groups in northwest Syria, but in that endeavor it has been on the same page as the US CIA, at least until recently. Is Trump getting pressure from the Russians, as well? Moscow is trying to roll up the Syrian rebels and cannot be unhappy with the prospect of a forced Qatari retrenchment.


Related video:

The Nation: “Qatar in crisis”

30 Responses

  1. By mere chance the king and sheikhs and Trump and secretaries and prince lined up almost in a line in a galactic dance. We already know that the gravity of their ego and the weight of their hypocrisy distort space/ time in a self serving curvature and every time they pass on front of the other the dirty deeds done behind closed doors becomes magnified as diplomacy with despots via press conferences.

    • Not mere chance. The need to use Iran as a scapegoat for all the collective failures of the monarchies, the US and Israel in the region put them all in the business of funding propaganda and “experts” to talk each other into doing this – as happened in the march to war in Iraq.

  2. If Tillerson did say that the blockade of Qatar is hindering the ability of the USA to do business in region and causes difficulties for the American military stationed in the middle East, then perhaps the American air force should stop re-fueling Saudi planes on their way to unleash ever more bombs of death on the people of Qatar. Tillerson’s statement suggests that the White House has no idea what the American military is up to?

    • The word going around the political sites is that Trump indeed did not understand that Centcom is based in Qatar.

    • Moreover DJ Trump has no investments in Brooklyn although his father did build a lot of middle income housing there which bears his name. Trump is a Manhattan luxury developer who was born in Queens. Don’t blame Brooklyn.

      (OTOH Jared Kushner has significant investments in Brooklyn.)

  3. The information we get from the MSM about what appears to be a dangerous mess in the Trump Administration is a mirror imagen of the confused, dull estate of mind of the American Public which is caused by the suppression of free political speech. There are dozens if not hundreds brilliant political thinkers in the USA that are kept out of the open discourse because their ideas are “unacceptable” to the rulers that control the press and the stick.
    There is a way to stop the downhill course of our country: allow Juan Cole and many others in the 10 o’clock news, as a starter.

    • I stopped watching all cable news channels three weeks before the election when I finally considered critically the credentials of all those “talking heads.”

      • Buh. I quit NPR in February 2003. I’d given up on television before that. Cable is just more garbage.

  4. Gasper Cario

    There are 11,000 troops in Qatar, does Trump have a clue of the risk and danger he has put the troops in, this is nuts.

    • I think its mainly two things. Iran is one of them. The presence of Al Jazeera and other new organizations that dare to criticize the Saudi government is another.

  5. There was also a story, developed I believe on CNN, that Trump was just improvising with his tweets, and was unaware of the US air base and fleet based in Qatar. This would explain things and is quite consistent with Trump’s prior behaviour.

  6. Unlike Saudi Arabia, apparently
    Trump has no debt held in Qatar.
    With Trump, it is “All About The
    Buck$”, make that “BIG BUCK$”.

  7. This is just one small aspect of the “wisdom” of placing the vaunted businessman in charge of the federal government. It’s working so well to date.

    • Just a reminder about this whole concept of running government like a business. There have been 3 presidents who were mainly businessmen before becoming president. Hoover, who had no clue when the Depression hit, George W. Bush who wasn’t even a good businessman, and Trump. They have all been spectacular failures. Government can’t be run like a business because they are two completely different types of organizations.

      • The attitude of the Right is that anything that is completely different from business is evil and must be destroyed. So they’re going to keep trying to run government like a business until it’s destroyed, neatly solving the problem.

  8. I suspect Qatar’s primary offense is funding Al-Jazeera, not terrorism.

    “Moscow is trying to roll up the Syrian rebels and cannot be unhappy with the prospect of a forced Qatari retrenchment.”

    That, plus they figure any more former allies thrown into the clusterfuck (can I say that, Juan? It’s the only word that applies) of US foreign policy can only be a good thing for Russia.

  9. Dr. Cole,
    I wonder if you have written any sort of primer on the GCC? Who are the players, what are their common goals and what are the points of contention?
    I suspect Putin (who doesn’t) has an interest in fomenting conflict in the Gulf in order to boost oil prices and subsequently Russia’s coffers. Therefore he has his stooges (Trump, Tillerson) stirring up trouble.
    How would this play into the US/Saudi vs Russia/Iran alliance dynamic?

    Also thanks, Bob Across The Road, your comment appears to support my hypothesis.

  10. Does this blockade, which threatens the lives of people living in Qatar, constitute an Act of War ?
    If so, does our treaty with Qatar (the one that allows us to put military bases there) require us to fight KSA ?

    Sure glad we have such cool heads in the White House at this time of crisis.

  11. I’d appreciate knowledgeable commentary on whether Russia hacked Qatar.
    There was a report on CNN, and some British press, e.g. the Independent & Guardian that this provoked the crisis.

    “Russian government hackers planted false news story which caused Gulf crisis: U.S. intelligence
    U.S. intelligence officials say Russian government hackers planted a false news story into the text prepared for release by the official Qatari news agency. The release of the Russian-manufactured story by the official Qatari news agency prompted Saudi Arabia and several of its regional allies to suspend diplomatic relations with Qatar and impose economic sanctions on it. U.S. officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the U.S. and its allies.”
    link to homelandsecuritynewswire.com

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