What's Up with Qatar?
Is There Room for Shades of Gray in a Black and White Covfefe World?
As the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar has used its immense wealth to court relations from Washington to London and Tokyo. Though a U.S. ally, Qatar has been pursuing an independent foreign policy with objectives that diverge from those of Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (“GCC”).
Because Qatar and Iran share an oil field, Qatar has a closer relationship with Iran than other Sunni states do. In addition, it has a history of reaching out to (and funding) various controversial groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Hamas, and rebels in Sudan's Darfur region.
Qatar touts itself as a neutral player that can act as an intermediary in regional conflicts. But Saudi Arabia and other critics slam Qatar for “playing both sides,” funding radical Islamist groups, and using its Al Jazeera television network as a propaganda tool to meddle in regional affairs.
But as they say, “It’s complicated.” Qatar has fought alongside the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in various military conflicts and is home to a huge U.S. airbase, which is a crucial hub for the air campaign against ISIS.
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and several other GCC states broke diplomatic relations with Qatar. Spokesmen at the Pentagon and State Department have sought to remain neutral and diffuse the situation. In contrast, President Trump is claiming credit, tweeting that his recent visit to Saudi Arabia is "already paying off" and that the break might mark the "beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism."
We will discuss these breaking developments and consider whether it is possible for any country in the Middle East to play the kind of “neutral” role claimed by Qatar.
This subject is not covered in Great Decisions. We will supply links to relevant readings. However, the story is unfolding daily in print, online, and on air.