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Saudi Arabia Issues Impossible Ultimatum to Qatar

2017-06-26

You probably haven’t been following the crisis in the Middle East because US newspapers and TV haven’t been covering the incidents closely, but you should be aware that Saudi Arabia (KSA–the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) has made a large step towards war with its neighbor Qatar.  KSA and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) issued an ultimatum to Qatar containing some thirteen points, many of which are impossible to meet, and setting a ten-day deadline which expires on July 3.   KSA claims that Qatar is supporting terrorism by financing groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the country of Iran.  Qatar claims that it is taking precautions to prevent money flowing to terrorist groups, and that it is trying to maintain an independent foreign policy.

The demands include shutting down Al Jazeera, a news network carried on US cable channels.  The network is relatively independent although it is financed by the emirs of Qatar, and it produces high quality programs.  The problem is that KSA thinks its coverage is slanted to the advantage of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamists in general.  Whether or not this is the case, KSA has no right to suppress the free speech of a separate country.

Another demand is that all Turkish troops leave Qatar– within ten days– a physically impossible and psychologically outrageous demand that amounts to interference with the foreign policy of a sovereign nation.

Most of the other demands amount to the same type of interference that are impossible to meet and arrogant in the extreme.  Notably absent is any demand that Qatar shut down its huge American airbase and center of operations for the drone war in the region.  It is bizarre that KSA would take actions that are essentially a prelude to a declaration of war against a country which hosts a very large American military presence.

What is worse, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are taking an equally hard line on the issue.  According to the Guardian, “The UAE has also banned its citizens from using social media to express views sympathetic to Qatar.”  This is an action that would be contrary to the US Constitution if it were to be attempted by our government, and it is intolerable to American thinking.

The Guardian story tells of a frightening and confusing sequence of events: Russian hackers, probably not government but free-lance, planted fake news stories claiming that the emir of Qatar made statements supportive of Iran and critical of Don the Con (the US President, unfortunately)– stories which were immediately picked up by media in KSA and have still not been discredited there.  At the same time, Don the Con visited KSA and made friends with its aged king, participating in a traditional sword dance and offering up to $100 billion in arms sales ( actual sales are likely to be less than half that. )  After returning to the US, Don tweeted his support for KSA and accused Qatar of supporting terrorism.  KSA and the GCC declared a blockade of Qatar, disrupting travel and economic ties.  The blockade is entirely ineffective because Qatar can be readily resupplied by air or sea even though its entire land border is with KSA.  Nonetheless, the blockade has had a profound psychological effect.

Despite the blockade and harsh words from the Saudi king, it took his government two weeks to come up with the ultimatum.  Even more confusing, the American State Department seems to be supporting Qatar in this dispute and undermining Don the Con’s position.

To an ordinary American, there is little reason to support either KSA or Qatar in this dispute.  Both countries are essentially wealthy monarchies with retrogressive social policies, oppressive of women and exploitative of Palestinians ( who make up most of both countries lower-class migrant labor forces and receive token support in their struggles with Israel ); both countries export vast quantities of oil (KSA) and natural gas (Qatar).  Both countries are Arabic societies, although KSA originates in the radical conservative Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, while Qatar, though Sunni, is more liberal and tolerates interactions with Shia Iran.  Neither country tolerates much freedom of speech, although Qatar is more tolerant in this regard and supports Al Jazeera ( which claims to be objective although it presents the Arab side of most issues. )

The problem here is that the blockade and ultimatum are a prelude to war, not a logical step in the direction of cutting off funding for terrorism.  Don the Con may have gotten the impression from his Saudi hosts that Qatar is a hotbed of Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian terrorists, but the truth is that Qatar tries not to take sides and allows Arabs of most persuasions to live and operate on its territory.

War in the Middle East between Qatar and KSA/UAE is hard to imagine, but there is a lot to be fearful of.  The US would inevitably be caught up in such a war and forced, most likely, to defend Qatar from Saudi attacks– even though there are American military assets in both countries.  There is nothing for the US to gain, and a great deal to be lost, in military conflict here.  This is typical behavior for Don the Con– provocation by fake news from hackers ( possibly even paid for by allies of Don’s ) abetted by promises made in private to the king and who knows what kind of lies.  It is even unclear whether Don knew that there was an American airbase in Qatar when he claimed that they were supporting terrorism.

There have been very few terror attacks inside Qatar– the last civilian killed was in a bombing in 2005– and some claim that this is because Qatar has paid off al Qaeda and other groups to leave it alone.  An article in Doha News says, “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”   The American airbase is a high value target because it controls drones which strike at terrorists all over the Mideast, but it is also well secured.  Qatar has a very effective internal security apparatus and it is a small, wealthy, and technologically sophisticated country, so even if such an attack were contemplated, it would be hard to carry off.

Bottom line: this is bad and Don the Con has had a hand in making it worse.

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