The strongly-worded warning issued to Qatar on Friday by US President Donald Trump – accusing it of being a “funder of terrorism… at a very high level” and demanding that it “stop immediately supporting terrorism” — suggests that the US has not only signed up fully to the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-Bahraini alliance against Qatar, but assumed its leadership. It also confirms that the steps taken by the four countries to blockade Qatar and suffocate it economically had prior American approval.
This amounts to a conditional American declaration of war. When Trump announces at a White House press conference,
‘I’ve decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals, and military people, the time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding,’ the meaning cannot be clearer in this regard.
Trump struck this hard-line stance just hours after Tillerson made statements about the crisis in the Gulf that were conciliatory and calming in tone. He urged Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to ease their blockade of Qatar, arguing that it was damaging to US military operations against the Islamic State (IS) group in addition to causing humanitarian harm.
In our view, this sudden toughening of the American position was a response to the way the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad Al Khalifa, turned down Trump’s invitation to him and the other principals in the crisis to travel to Washington to explore for solutions. He justified his refusal to attend on the grounds that he could not leave his country while it remained under blockade. This angered the US president, who has been behaving like an emperor and thinks his orders cannot be disobeyed.
Emir Tamim does not trust the US administration, and fears the invitation could merely have been a trap to keep him in the US and prevent him from returning home, while Saudi and UAE forces invade in support of an internal coup that deposes him as ruler and installs a new emir from the other wing of the ruling Al Thani. The 10,000 US troops based at al-‘Udaid in Qatar also could conceivably play a supporting role in such a scheme.