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Home Current Saudi News & Analysis Tillerson and Mattis: Hands off Qatar

Tillerson and Mattis: Hands off Qatar

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Tillerson and Mattis: Hands off Qatar

CDHR Commentary: Despite President Trump’s rash endorsement of the Saudi instigated blockade of Qatar, Secretaries of Defense and State Mattis and Tillerson told the blockading monocracies hands-off. Based on their vast experiences in the region and their understanding of the Saudis’ goal, these seasoned senior officials understand that the blockade is designed to turn Qatar into a submissive colony of the Saudis, who would assume control of its wealth and policies. Beside their personal vested interests in Qatar (military installation and energy bonanza), the two Secretaries understand that an intra-Gulf dynasties’ military confrontation could force the US to take sides, potentially drawing other countries into the fray.

Qatar hosts the largest and most strategically important US military installation in the Greater Middle East. In light of this, Secretary Mattis hurriedly signed a “$12 billion deal” to sell “Boeing F-15 U.S. fighter jets” to Qatar in order to send an unequivocal signal to the Saudi-led blockaders that the US considers Qatar an ally that should not be tampered with.

Furthermore, Qatar “...sits atop the world’s third largest gas reserves.” As former chief of the Exxon/Mobil “Empire”, Secretary Tillerson knows the importance of natural gas as an indispensable component of future global energy supplies for decades to come. Based on his business experience with and mistrust of the Saudis, it is safe to assume that Tillerson wants to make sure the Saudis and their UAE proxy rulers will not be in a position to dictate the production and marketing of the vast and profitable Qatari energy reservoirs. Tillerson, like Mattis, signed an accord with the Qataris to cooperate in ending terrorism financing, a face-saving compromise to the Saudi demand, but also to send a message to the Saudi-led band of four that the US will not tolerate economic strangulation or any use of force against Qatar.

Having  “… underwritten the regional order for almost 70 years” and given the presence of formidable US military might in the Persian Gulf, the US is likely to continue to be the dominant player in the energy-rich   Gulf region for years to come. This is not a bad thing, given the fact that repressive powers like China and Russia are eager to establish a permanent foothold in and around the Gulf region, as exemplified by China’s recent establishment of a military base in Djibouti.  Notorious for their repression of their own populations, Russia and China would support tougher subjugation of the peoples of the energy-rich Gulf states.

Continued US dominance in the Gulf region will require more than military might and personal relationships. The US can serve its short and long terms best interest by taking into account the burgeoning aspirations of the Gulf Arab states’ populations, especially women. The Trump Administration’s stated priority is stability in the Gulf region, presumably under the current totalitarian monarchies. This policy is doomed to fail, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared, “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither.”

If recent history is any guide, continuing to support autocratic ruling dynasties in the Gulf Arab states will not lead to stability, but most likely to another Arab Spring, which would have far reaching strategic and economic consequences regionally and globally.

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