Friday, June 9, 2017

The Qatar Crisis and Trump’s Dangerous Embrace of the Saudis By DANIEL LARISON

Emma Ashford notes Trump’s obliviousness to the costs of siding with the Saudis and Emiratis in the Qatar crisis:
Indeed, despite these concerns – and despite the efforts of Tillerson, Mattis and others to mediate the dispute, and to walk back the President’s rash tweets – Trump himself appears determined to publicly take the Saudi side in this dispute and force unity within the GCC. In doing so, he risks raising regional tensions, and complicating the anti-ISIS campaign that was the cornerstone of his campaign.
Foreign policy often requires trade-offs. It is no doubt possible that long-term pressure from regional states may induce Qatar to scale back the scope of its foreign policy. But this will come at the cost of other U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region.
The underlying problem with Trump’s handling of the crisis is that he has mistaken the Saudi-led bloc opposed to Qatar for reliable partners in combating jihadism, and so he accepts that their punitive measures against Qatar are proof of their willingness to follow through on supposed commitments made in Riyadh last month. Because he has embraced these client states so fully, he doesn’t appreciate that he is being used to provide their vendetta with a U.S. stamp of approval. He seems to think that the Saudis and their allies are pursuing a U.S.-guided agenda when they are pursuing their own goals without regard to our interests. This is why he keeps thanking King Salman and the Saudi government, but his gratitude–like his support–is seriously misplaced.
The Saudis and their allies are actively undermining U.S. policies in the region, and the president congratulates them on their good work. They single out Qatar to settle scores with them over other issues, but dress up the score-settling as counter-terrorism and Trump believes it without question. The trouble isn’t just that he doesn’t grasp the trade-off being made, but that he actually thinks the U.S. is benefiting greatly from the Saudi-led bloc’s self-serving adventurism. Like many other hawks who conflate U.S. interests and those of bad regional clients, Trump can’t perceive the trade-off being made because he refuses to see the divergence of interests clearly on display.
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