The situation in Qatar has been de-escalating and it became clear that the blockade would hurt the interests of not just Doha but the entire region, including Saudi Arabia.
Efforts by Turkey and Kuwait to mediate a diplomatic solution helped to reduce tensions in the Gulf. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on the Gulf’s ‘elder’ Saudi Arabia, to lead dialogue efforts, warning that the blockade was in line with neither humanitarian nor Islamic values.
Needless to say, the Donald Trump administration’s decision to reverse its policy on Qatar was one of the main reasons why the situation de-escalated in recent days. It was President Trump’s message to the Arab leaders at the Riyadh Summit that rekindled the 2014 crisis and gave rise to the blockade in the first place.
This time around, Washington serves to ease tensions, as the Trump administration made a $12-billion military deal and decided to hold joint exercises with Qatar. Still, the situation remains quite serious even though a palace coup to overthrow the Qatari emir is less likely now than it was before.
The following lessons must be drawn by world leaders and the region from the Qatar crisis:
1. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates set the tone for the Qatar crises due to their joint hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood. By calling for a blockade against Turkey, Egyptian junta leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi revealed his secret plans.
2. Turkey made the right call by supporting Qatar while engaging in balanced and reconciliatory diplomatic efforts. Moving forward, close contact with Riyadh will be necessary to ensure that Turkish support for Qatar won’t be seen as hostility towards Saudi Arabia.
Again, President Erdoğan was right to highlight that the Turkish military base in Qatar, to which Ankara and Doha agreed back in 2014, was intended to serve the security and stability of the entire Gulf region. His announcement that Turkey had made a similar offer to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at the time served as proof of Ankara’s constructive approach.
3. The lack of coordination between President Trump and members of his administration form an environment of uncertainty and confusion uncommon for a superpower. Such policy reversals raise questions among U.S. allies about Washington’s reliability as a partner. The fact that the U.S. could sell $12 billion worth of military equipment to a country which was just charged by the POTUS with terror financing is beyond comprehension.
4. The uncertainty, divisions and unpredictability surrounding Washington’s policy decisions don’t just upset world leaders. The negotiator-in-chief’s brand of deal-making often leads to miscalculations by his friends, especially in the Middle East, as the Gulf states apparently overdid the Qatar blockade.
5. President Trump’s foreign policy priorities, attracting investments and selling guns, fuel crises that cause the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense to put their foot down on foreign policy and national security matters.
6. It is quite likely that policy makers in Washington were frustrated with the fact that Egypt and the UAE could dictate their priorities in the Gulf region. If there’s one thing that all U.S. officials agree on, it’s the need to isolate and contain Iran. Efforts by third countries, like imposing a blockade on Qatar under the pretext of cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, can distract attention from Iran and therefore won’t be received well in Washington.
Again, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement that terror-listing the five-million-strong Muslim Brotherhood would further complicate the politics and security of the Middle East was noteworthy. There should be no doubt that Washington’s reluctance to go all in will change the calculus of Israeli policymakers, who had been praising the Qatar blockade due to its potential effects on Hamas.
7. In light of statements by U.S. officials, many people are starting to think that the Qatar crisis was an unintended side effect of President Trump’s performance at the Riyadh Summit. Moving forward, the Middle East will refocus its attention on containing Iran in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. At the end of the day, the foreign policy experts in Washington still have their eyes on the prize.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on June 19, 2017.