In foreign policy decision-making the competition and rivalry among the people representing different institutions within the government is a common trait. This situation becomes more apparent when foreign policy crises occur. During these crises or critical junctures it has been observed that different agencies may support different types of actions and decisions. They compete for more influence in foreign policy decisions. Thus, different critical institutions of a country may be on different pages in regards to a serious foreign policy issue, and the rivalry sometime can become harsher than normal competition.
These differences of opinions among different agencies have been one of the most “juicy” aspects of the issue for members of the press. The disputes and debates usually find a way into the media. It still surprises people to see such major divergences of opinions among the institutions of a state.
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This trait of foreign policy crises is a frequently discussed and stated topic of U.S. foreign policy decision-making as well. With its different nuances it has been named as inter-agency disputes, while others prefer to name it bureaucratic politics. In different instances of foreign policy crises this issue has become the most prevalent aspect of the process. Many scholars and analysts argue that during the Cuban missile crises and before the Iraq War this competition among different agencies was very obvious. Thus, this has been understood and accepted as a common occurrence and characteristic of foreign policy decision-making, and analyzed and treated as such. However, as mentioned above, it still surprises many people around the world.
However what happened in regards to the crisis in Qatar in the last two weeks and the U.S. reaction to this crisis was more than surprising for many around the world. The first reaction from the U.S. on the crisis in the Gulf came with the tweets of President Donald Trump.
He wrote: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” Also: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
After these tweets many thought that the decision of breaking diplomatic ties with Qatar may be a joint decision of the Gulf countries with the U.S. However, soon after statements by the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State contradicted these statements. The Pentagon underlined the role of Qatar in regional security while recalling that it hosts one of the most important U.S. military bases in the world.
The State Department soon followed this tone. Secretary Tillerson for instance asked publicly for the Gulf countries to ease the blockade against Qatar and said: “There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade […] The blockade is also impairing U.S. and other international business activities in the region and has created a hardship on the people of Qatar and the people whose livelihoods depend on commerce with Qatar. The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against Daesh.”
However, soon after that President Trump made another statement in a press conference and this time more directly accused Qatar of funding terrorism. He said: “The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level […] Nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior. So we had a decision to make. Do we take the easy road, or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” But soon after this statement this time a major arms deal was finalized between Qatar and the United States.
The deal involves the sale of 36 F-15 jets to Qatar and is worth $12 billion in total. The Department of Defense made a statement that it “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar.” This of course one more time confused many around the world in regards to the U.S.’s position on this crisis. In the meantime, U.S. navy ships also arrived in Qatar as part of a joint military drill. Of course neither the sale of the weapons nor the decision for the military drill was an overnight decision. However, the timing of the implementation of these decisions are still considered a statement.
So far these are the aspects of the U.S.’s position in regards to the crisis in Qatar that have confused many around the world. The challenges of coordination in foreign policy making is a common problem of the new administration, especially since the first six months of the new administrations are full of these forms of crises. But many in Washington argue that this time the intensity of the crises is worrisome for the credibility of the U.S. The clarity of the signals of U.S. foreign policy makers are more important for developments in regions like the Middle East, where sensitivity is high due to the urgency of different problems.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on June 17, 2017.