When the drumbeat of war sounds, the world’s superpower usually takes away the drumsticks. But not Donald Trump
The past is past. Either we learn from it or we don’t. Donald Trump seems not to be bothered about the lessons of yesteryear. The braggart US president is intent on making history, by misgoverning on a global scale. Mr Trump has stirred the roiling cauldron of Middle East politics, and not lightly but with careless vigour. On Monday Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with the uber-rich Gulf state of Qatar, which shares the world’s largest reservoir of gas with Iran, Riyadh’s hated rival. The blockade attempts to cut off Qatar from the rest of the world: the land border has been sealed; Qatari overflights banned; and shipping lanes closed. The demands to lift the blockade include, absurdly, shutting al-Jazeera, the TV voice of the Arab spring. Qatari citizens are being asked to leave surrounding countries. This is a casus belli by almost any definition. When the drumbeat of war sounds, the world’s superpower usually takes away the drumsticks. But not Mr Trump. He tweeted that the Saudi-UAE move would begin to end the “horror of terrorism”, endorsing Qatar’s isolation. In blatantly backing one side, Mr Trump was playing with the safety of more than 11,000 American and coalition troops in the US al-Udeid airbase, from which the battle against Islamic State is run.
Mr Trump has blundered into a situation sparked by hackers but grounded in existential fears. What is troubling is that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi acted after meeting Mr Trump. They – and others like Egypt – believed he would sanction their move. On Twitter Mr Trump did. The Saudis and the UAE loathe Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, viewed as a mortal threat by Arab regimes. Qatar also hosts Hamas and the Taliban, although this is with the tacit approval of the US, which wants such groups isolated but around to talk to. Such is the anger that deep emnity has been put aside – recent leaks suggest Israeli thinktanks back the Saudi-UAE attempt to cut off Qatar. The root of today’s troubles can be traced back to 1995, when the current Qatari ruler’s father ousted his pro-Saudi father from power. Saudi Arabia and the UAE regarded the family coup as a dangerous precedent to Gulf ruling families. Doha, running on gas, plotted its own role and deepened relations with Tehran. Qatar’s version of austere Islam heightens its difference with Saudi Arabia by allowing women to drive and go about unveiled, and letting foreigners drink alcohol.