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Is the quarrel between May and Trump to blame for the Qatar Crisis?

UK-US strategic cooperation in the Gulf has been well established since Blair was in power. Could Trump's rejection of this partnership have played a role in the current crisis in Qatar?

Tariq al-Shammari
6 July 2017
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Theresa May in livestream joint press conference with Donald Trump. Karl-Ludwig Poggemann/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In the second term of Obama’s presidency, we witnessed significant changes in the plan to implement the National Security Strategy (NSS). In order to implement the approach laid out the document, Britain and the US had agreed to increase the military and security role of England in the Gulf and east of the Suez Canal, and accordingly the US had the opportunity to consolidate its influence in Southeast Asia as well. In the debates of the United States Congress, the Pentagon, the Foreign Ministry and the CIA, officials implicitly pointed out that the Middle East project was to be handed over to the CIA and the Pentagon was to become responsible for focusing on Southeast Asia.

Britain in recent years has sought to step out of the shadows and play a more direct role in the Middle East. 

Analysing the changes that occurred in the British grand strategy, it is clear that—unlike its decision in the 1970s to withdraw from the Suez Canal and the Gulf—Britain in recent years has sought to step out of the shadows and play a more direct role in the Middle East. The implementation of this strategy has been accelerated after Brexit.

This change in Britain’s strategy began in 2010, when Philip Hammond officially delivered it to the foreign ministers of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during a secret meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2014.

Hammond declared his commitment to control Iran and then called for the expansion of Britain’s military presence in the Gulf, emphasizing the need to set up military contracts for assigning the military bases in the Gulf to Britain. British military agreements with Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent years were in line with this grand strategy, a strategy which has its roots in Britain’s agreement with the Pentagon during the administration of President Obama.

Tony Blair made clear on multiple occasions that Britain was to become a strategic loyal partner of Washington in the Gulf. 

This strategy led Theresa May to emphasize the need for solidarity of the Arab states against Iran and Russia in a close session with the Gulf Cooperation Countries in Manama on 7 December 2016. She proposed the following plans: transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council to the Gulf Cooperation Union; launching a joint Gulf police and naval forces; and following a strategic plan to isolate Putin and Russia in the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

Tony Blair made clear on multiple occasions that Britain was to become a strategic loyal partner of Washington in the Gulf. His part in formulating Saudi’s Vision 2030 and persuading Riyadh to support Haider al-Abadi to reduce his affiliation to Iran indicate such an agreement between the UK and US. Furthermore, by advocating reform of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and making support for the Brotherhood by Qatar on the condition that the Brotherhood and Hamas discard ideas by Sayyid Qutb, Blair gave weight to Obama’s stance. As such, President Obama trusted Great Britain and ushered London into his plans in the Gulf.

Trump has paid little attention to this strategic agreement with England.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has paid little attention to this strategic agreement with England and made close relations with the Arab leaders of the Gulf. In a season, Trump talked and visited the Arab leaders a number of times, making preliminary agreements in financial, military and security fields.

On the contrary, the several trips of Theresa May to the Gulf were—directly or indirectly—a warning to Washington which appears to have been deliberately ignored by Trump. Trump's visits to the Gulf—to Saudi Arabia and to the gathering of all the Arab leaders in the Riyadh summit—showed a gross violation and disregard by Washington for Great Britain as a loyal strategic partner. It seems that Trump is set on claiming the available Arab petrodollars fully for himself and the US economy, and therefore chose to neglect the previous agreements made by former American leaders with the UN and the UK.

The Qatar Crisis could be counted as the display of an iron fist by the UK in the face of Trump.

The Qatar Crisis could be counted as the display of an iron fist by the UK in the face of Trump, demanding that he sort himself out and become committed to his country’s international agreements. However, it seems that Trump was not sleeping to be woken in this way. He is a cunning merchant who plans to use all the revenue from Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states for the US economy. He is therefore able to seize the shares of his European allies without hesitation. It seems that security crises and the probable war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have no importance for the US—provided that the petrodollars earned by Trump are safe and secure.

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