By Javad Heirannia

It’s very hard to foresee unpredictable Trump’s policy toward Qatar: expert  

August 7, 2017 - 16:56

TEHRAN - A senior lecturer in international relations and Middle East politics says since Donald Trump “is unpredictable it is very hard to foresee” what policies Washington will adopt toward Qatar in the future.

Afshin Shahi, from the University of Bradford, says the Qatar crisis showed that “Trump administration is in disarray”.

On June 5 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain closed land, sea and air routes to Qatar for what they called Doha’s support for extremism. The blockade took place a few days after Trump’s visit to Riyadh.

“In this crisis the U.S. was part of the problem and not the solution,” Shahi tells the Tehran Times.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: According to its manifest, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council is tasked to hold a dispute resolution committee session when a crisis emerges, however until now the council has not held such a meeting to resolve the conflict between Qatar and its larger neighbors. Is it a sign of weakness in the council?

A: GCC as an organization does not have an ability to independently resolve the current crisis, because it does not function as a supranational entity which can overrule the decisions of its sovereign member states. Organs such as the Supreme Council, Ministerial Council and Secretariat General constitute the main governing mechanisms of this intergovernmental organization.  The supreme council is the highest decision-making entity of the organization, which is made of the heads of the member states. Every state has one vote and decisions on fundamental issues need unanimous consent.

Therefore, in the current situation it is not easy to reach a unanimous agreement. Although Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain seem to be united against Qatar, both Kuwait and Oman represent different positions.  Even when you look at the history of the organization, it rarely played a meaningful mediating role. Often disputes among the member states have been resolved by personal mediation and not institutional mediation. For example in the previous GCC crisis in 2014, the Amir of Kuwait was the main force for reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and allies.

Bradford University professor says Qatar crisis showed Trump administration is in ‘disarray’

Q: How do you evaluate the future of the (P)GCC?

A: In recent days Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs in the UAE, stated that “we have to go on without Qatar”. He viewed the problem with Doha as long term, which could not be resolved with short-term mediation. He said that along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, they are formulating a ‘permanent’ policy towards Qatar. Should we take his words seriously, the future of GCC as an organization is bleak. Of course, this is not the first time that there is a major dispute between Qatar and some other  GCC member states  but the scale of this crisis is unprecedented. Hence the future of GCC, at least in its current shape is in a big question.  In 2011, Saudi Arabia proposed to transform the GCC into a "Gulf Union" with tighter economic, political and security coordination in order to counterbalance the role of Iran in the region. In 2014, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the prime minister of Bahrain, revived the closer integration idea, but in reality very little progress was made. I would say that the current situation and the ongoing crisis in the region has made the idea of a closer union practically impossible. One of the main outcomes of the prolongation of the Qatar crisis could be a permanent transition of GCC. For example Qatar could be permanently expelled which could pave the way for the emergence a new entity. In this situation we will see a closer security, political and economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE. 

Q: Is there possibility of a Saudi-engineered coup in Doha?

A: Since its independence from London in 1971, there have been a few coups in Qatar with long lasting impact. You have to remember that Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, the grandfather of the current Amir was toppled in 1995 by his own son, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Shortly after the coup there was a countercoup against Hamad in 1996 which was unsuccessful. However, Hamd blamed external powers for trying to overthrow him. During the trial of the plotters, two top officials testified that Bahrain was behind the coup, with Saudi Arabia’s consent.

I think plotting a military coup against the current Amir is not going to be an easy task for many different reasons. The current rulers are popular and the vast majority of Qatari citizens have benefited from a massive economic transition since 1995.  We have to remember that per capita gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing parity has risen to $130,000, the highest in the world, from about $55,000 in 1995. The Qatari people never had it any better. The military in Qatar is cohesive and loyal. The royal family is united.  More importantly, Qatar has been relatively successful to gain international support since the crisis began. Qatar has some important supporters in the West and Turkey is already increasing its military presence in the country. Hence a military intervention in any shape or form is going to be too costly for the Saudis and the Emirates.  So it remains to be very doubtful.

Q: In the first days of the crisis Donald Trump called Qatar a terrorist supporter. However, later the U.S. changed policy and tried to adopt a mediatory role. What were the reasons for such a policy shift?

“Qatar has been relatively successful to gain international support since it was blockaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

A: The Qatar crisis highlighted the fact that when it comes to foreign policy Trump administration is in disarray. In the early stages of the crisis there was hardly any coordination between the president and the State Department. Hence, we kept hearing conflicting messages from Washington. The State Department adopted a more rational approach while President Trump used Twitter to blame Qatar which hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region as the sponsor of terrorism. On June 9 he stood up at the White House and said Qatar had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level”. But one can ask why suddenly Trump adopted this radical anti-Qatar approach? I think the close ties between him and Saudi Arabia is an obvious factor but it does not explain the full picture.

Recently, some leaked email correspondence revealed that Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador in Washington, is a close friend with Jared Kushner (the son-in-law of the president). Yousef Al Otaiba has been using the influence of Kushner to lobby the politicians to close down the U.S. military base in Qatar.  It is not secret that for years the UAE has been interested to upstage Qatar in order to be the host of the largest U.S. military base in the region. Therefore, a crisis like this could help the UAE to reach its long-term security objective. So it was not at all surprising when the recent reports blamed the UAE for faking the news about the comments stated by the Amir of Qatar, which sparked the crisis.

What is more important here than the role of the UAE is the vested interests of some members of the presidential family in the escalation of tension. 

Some sources suggest that Kushner tried and failed to secure a $500m loan from a Qatari businessman, before persuading his father-in-law to adopt a hardline approach towards this tiny country.

To what extent Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump (who recently received $100 million from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for her foundation) played a role in this crisis is uncertain. But I cannot assume they did not play any role at all.

We may not have answer for all questions, but it is becoming increasingly clear that in this crisis the U.S. was part of the problem and not the solution.

As the President is unpredictable it is very hard to foresee the future policies of Washington towards Qatar.


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