Picking Sides, Not Diplomacy, in the Gulf

In FOREIGN RELATIONS, New York Times Editorial On

President Trump’s impetuousness and his simplistic view of American interests have again put national security at risk. He has taken sides with Saudi Arabia and four other Sunni states in their attempt to isolate and bully Qatar, the tiny gulf nation that is arguably America’s most important military outpost in the region.

Rather than position the United States to ease tensions in the Middle East, Mr. Trump has, essentially, picked one side in a small rivalry within a big rivalry. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen chose to cut ties to Qatar for a number of reasons, some of them petty, but principally because Qatar has a relatively close relationship with the Sunni states’ greatest rival, Shiite Iran.

Iran is a bad actor in many ways, but it also shares some interests with the United States, including in the fight against the Islamic State. On Wednesday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for two attacks that killed 12 people in Tehran at the Iranian Parliament and the mausoleum of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

. . .

One thing seems clear in all this complexity: Tiny Qatar is much more adept at diplomacy than is Mr. Trump. The man who sold himself as a shrewd deal maker seems to believe instead in green lights and blank checks, causing great damage to American interests. Even the $110 billion weapons package he signed in Riyadh turned out to be fantasy, a collection of letters of interest or intent, not contracts, all begun during the Obama administration, according to Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst who was a senior official in the Obama White House.

Legislation blocking this deal is working its way through Congress. At a minimum, lawmakers should refuse to resupply the Saudis with precision-guided munitions that are killing civilians in Yemen and implicating America in the process. Even better would be to hold up the package until the Saudis enter into serious negotiations on Yemen and resolve their differences with Qatar.

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