Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The Tillerson affair

It is time for the Trump administration to come clean and state which side of the Qatar crisis it stands on, writes Hany Ghoraba

Following the path of his predecessor, John Kerry, former oil tycoon and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is swiftly turning to be another controversial and inept chief diplomat for his country. The 65-year-old former Exxon CEO has been nothing but a source of disappointment and dismay in the eyes of the Quartet alliance that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, all of which are united against the terrorism-financing and supporting Qatari regime.

Quartet alliance leaders may seek the support of the US administration, which on paper claims to fight terrorism worldwide. However, the alliance is not reliant on that support or approval. In fact, the role of the United States, though crucial, is more of a mediatory one in this case and it is highly unlikely that either the US or EU will persuade the alliance of the innocence of Qatar given its continued destructive role in the region and worldwide.

FRATERNISING WITH TERRORISM FINANCIERS: Much to the dismay of many in the region and after the meeting of Tillerson with his Qatari counterpart 11 July, Tillerson was praising Qatari regime figures due to their commitment to and signing of a new meaningless Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for fighting terrorism. This self-proclaimed achievement is utterly useless in light of the Qatari regime’s adamant drive to financially and politically endorse terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State and the Taliban from Qatar, where leaders of these groups are finding asylum.

AMERICAN BASE IN QATAR: Tillerson is seemingly on a mission to manipulate both sides of the conflict and gain maximum benefits for the United States which entails upholding the status quo, mainly so the United States won’t be forced to change the location of its current Al-Udeid airbase located in Qatar with all the logistical problems and costs that could entail. However, if he is successful in his approach it would translate into Qatar’s continued financing and support for terrorist activities across the region, which is unacceptable by all means. It is understandable that the presence in Qatar of the biggest American military base in the region leaves the Trump administration in a bit of quandary. However, Trump himself didn’t seem too keen on keeping the base in Qatar should it interfere with the interests of the United States and the war on terrorism, and expressed explicitly that there are other options than keeping it there.

THE TILLERSON CONTROVERSY: “The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level,” said Donald Trump on 9 June. One wonders what part of that historic speech Tillerson missed before embarking on his Middle East shuttle tour that included Qatar. The provoking nature of Tillerson’s statements that followed his meeting with officials in Qatar exacerbated the situation with the Quartet alliance. These statements also sparked the perception that the United States approves or is even colluding with the terrorist backing provided by the Qatari regime, in breach of what was agreed during the Arab-Islamic-American Summit that took place in Riyadh in May. The Trump administration, thanks to Tillerson, is failing to resolve the escalating crisis between Egypt and Arabian Gulf States on the one hand and Qatar on the other.

While President Trump attempts to rectify some of the huge blunders of US policies of the past six years by ordering the CIA to cease all operations supporting the so-called “Syrian opposition”, which was mainly composed of various Islamist and Jihadist groups, Tillerson is seen fraternising with officials of the country that has been financing these very groups that ransacked and destroyed entire towns in Syria, Libya and Iraq. The Qatari regime is directly responsible for the miseries of millions in the aforementioned countries, added to Egypt and all countries suffering from the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

It is unfathomable that the US secretary of state would be so deluded. Accordingly, President Trump is urged to clearly decide which side his administration is on. He has to practically reaffirm his commitment to fighting terrorism and regimes that support it, regardless of their identity. Trump is required to reassess his secretary of state’s stance, to assure that he would cease and desist sending these abhorrent mixed signals that display a total lack of comprehension on how far the rift between the Arab Quartet alliance and Qatar has grown. Trump should realise that the current situation will endanger US interests in the Middle East.

Tillerson and some of the Qatari-affiliated Western media, has been trying desperately to provide the perception that the embargo against Qatar is not working and the Quartet should lift it, which is an oxymoron. They never explained why are they so keen on lifting an embargo that is — according to them — useless and ineffective in the first place. Moreover, the same groups are attempting to underline the importance of Qatar to alliance countries, which is a fallacy since Qatar is of no major economic, strategic, military or cultural importance to the region. Despite Qatar being a gas-rich country, to most Middle East countries that is equivalent to the importance of a sand vendor in the middle of the desert.

The Obama administration created unprecedented havoc in the Middle East with twisted policies that provided a catalyst to the rise of Islamist and jihadist groups all across the region. Chief allies and perpetrators of that policy were the Qatari and Turkish regimes who trained, abetted and financed most of the terrorist groups in the region since 2011. Qatari Prince Tamim Al-Thani is still defying regional powers in his latest televised speech 21 July where he mentioned that Qataris has a different definition of terrorism, and thus tougher measures may be taken by the Quartet to compel the Qatari regime to abandon its destructive policies.

Dealing decisively with Qatar: President Trump claimed to reject these policies and vowed to reverse them upon his ascent to the presidency. Thus far this promise has been mostly rhetorical. Nothing concrete has been done on the ground, including on the promise to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates in the United States. The Arabian Gulf crisis is Trump’s chance to meet his promises of fighting effectively the terrorism financiers.

Tillerson’s approach is not only in contradiction to the Arab alliance against terrorism, but also his own president’s words last month. His continued demands for lifting the embargo is not going to work since Qatar didn’t even meet the most basic of demands and is continuing its provoking policies. Moreover, the embargo against Qatar by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain doesn’t breach any international or United Nations accords since these nations are sovereign who have simply taken stringent measures to protect their national security. It’s noteworthy to remember that the United States embargoed the Castro regime in Cuba for over 55 years, and even without the Cubans supporting terrorist activities.

Many in the West are downplaying Qatar’s role in the international wave of terrorism post-2000 and believe that Qatar is too small of a country to play such a role. They are right about one thing: that Qatar is not alone in this role and the Turkish regime plays a similar role as well. However, the size of Qatar has nothing to do with the havoc it created. Western media pundits and politicians may need to remind themselves how miniscule diseases are that nonetheless destroy the human body. A malicious but small sized country can still do a lot of damage if left unchecked, and Qatar cannot be allowed to get away with its crimes anymore.

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