It looks as though Trump once again played right into Putin’s hands, turning against Qatar before the facts were in, and creating an opening for the Russians

On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain closed all borders (land, sea and air) with the country of Qatar, an action that was then followed by Yemen, the Maldives and Libya. And, this morning, our President took to Twitter to take credit for the fact that these countries had moved to isolate Quatar, suggesting that he’d set the whole thing in motion late last month, when, during his visit to the Middle East, he’d demanded that countries cut ties to terrorist organizations. The only issue is, our State Department still considers Qatar to be an ally, and, what’s more, the country is home to the U.S. Central Command’s regional headquarters, as well as an air base from which coalition attacks against the Islamic State are launched. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, there’s apparently evidence that Qatar didn’t really deserve any of this… More on that in a minute… First, here are Trump’s tweets, which White House spokesperson Sean Spicer assured us this afternoon were “official statements by the President of the United States.” [If you’ll recall, Kellyanne Conway had suggested over the weekend that Trump, at least when he was on Twitter, didn’t speak on behalf of the administration.]

OK, well here’s the thing… It looks now as though this move against Qatar, at least according to CNN, may have been the result of fake news planted by Russian hackers. That’s right. According to U.S. government sources, Trump may have denounced a key American ally, when, in fact, the evidence against said ally – a document showing Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to be a supporter of radical elements within the Muslim Brotherhood in Iran – was planted by the Russians… The following is from CNN.

…The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections.

US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies. In recent months, suspected Russian cyber activities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.

It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government”…

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.

“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” the foreign minister told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of the Qatari Government Communications Office, confirmed that Qatar’s Ministry of Interior is working with the FBI and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency on the ongoing hacking investigation of the Qatar News Agency.

“The Ministry of Interior will reveal the findings of the investigation when completed,” he told CNN…

Hours after Trump’s tweets, the US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done…

And that’s not all. After Qatar was effectively isolated from its neighbors and the United States, Putin called Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to discuss how their two countries might work more closely together… Yes, it would appear that Donald Trump just drove a wedge between the United States and one of our most trusted regional allies, allowing Putin to walk right in and establish a relationship that could weaken our position in the Middle East… One hopes that Trump is on the phone right now, apologizing to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, but one suspects that, instead of admitting he’d been played for a fool, our President is now preparing to double down with yet another tweet about how we’re better off without a base in Qatar.

Please, Republicans, I get that you love power, and feel as though Trump can do your dirty work, destroying social security, health care, public education, the EPA, and everything else you’ve been unable to get rid of these past several decades, but, really, what good is it going to be in our country is gone? This is well past the serious stage? This is life and death. This man, if you continue to aid and abed him, will be the end of us all, and you have to see that. Please take the opportunity this Thursday, when Comey in on the stand, to do the right thing, and bring an end to this terrifying chapter in American history. Stop assisting with the coverup by focusing on leaks, and whether or not members of the Obama administration may have “unmasked” individuals caught up in domestic surveillance operations, and instead focus on the fact that our sitting President is a danger to our Democracy, and act accordingly. As the above incident demonstrates, we’re almost out of time.

update: Our friend Juan Cole, as always, has much better insight when it comes to what’s really happening behind the scenes. Here’s a clip from his most recent post, Trump’s Ally: Saudi Arabia’s drive for Aristocratic Hegemony in the Middle East.

…The Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization, and Qatar, contrary to what Trump alleged, is not supporting terrorism. In fact, the common conceit in the West that Wahhabism is linked to terrorism would be hard to prove. Lots of Sunnis and Shiites have committed terrorist acts, as have Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus. Most Wahhabis go through life committing no violence. I even know relatively liberal Wahhabis who are more liberal than some Sunnis I know. The oil wealth has created a new generation of cosmopolitan Wahhabi young business people and professionals. There are still many strict puritans, of course, but puritanism, however annoying, is not terrorism. And let’s not forget that America was founded on puritanism.

Qatar stands accused of using the Al Jazeera satellite t.v. station to promote the Muslim Brotherhood. (Religious Palestinians have long been important in its management and staffing.) When the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2011-2012, claiming Islamic authority based on its populism and elections, that posed a severe threat to the Saudi monarchy, which suddenly had a religious and not just secular rival in Egypt. The Saudi elite was afraid Brotherhood influence would come over and challenge the monarchy.

Hamas in Gaza is a distant branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (it is organized by country, so there is no common reporting line). That is one reason the Saudis dislike it and back the secular PLO.

Qatar, from Riyadh’s point of view, is just not a team player. It has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and kindred movements in Egypt and Syria. It is allied with the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey. Qatar’s traditional policy is to keep lines open to Iran and to remain on speaking terms with the ayatollahs, while Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman wants to isolate Iran, cut off its government, and kill it. Qatar is on the exact opposite side from Iran in Syria, where it supported the Muslim Brotherhood rebels, some of whom morphed into radicals. But it doesn’t support the Salafis such as Jaysh al-Islam, who are backed by the Saudis.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have lost in Syria to the Iran-Russia coalition. But since Qatar has no ambitions to be a regional hegemon (it is too tiny for that), they can live with that defeat and still hope to be influential among the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups in any post-war settlement. The Saudis are furious about their defeat and inability to dislodge Iran from Syria. The Saudis are on a war footing in their quest for hegemony, and so abhor grey areas. Everything is black and white to them, and Qatar is not following that logic.

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9 Comments

  1. Reid Paskiewicz
    Posted June 6, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s a Realpolitik board game and our player hasn’t read the rules and doesn’t even know where the board is.

  2. Joshua Pardon
    Posted June 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Is it too early to invoke the 25th amendment yet?

  3. wobblie
    Posted June 7, 2017 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    ” a document showing Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to be a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iran”

    Iran is a Shiite country. The Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni organization. If Qatar was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood then they were supporting an opposition organization in Iran. If you really want to understand the dynamics among the Persian gulf autocrats I recommend Juan Cole’s website, Informed Comment.

    Qatar had supported the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that was kicked out of power by the military. That is one of the things that has set the Saudies’ against them.

  4. Posted June 7, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I took your advice, wobblie. Here’s some of what Juan has to say in his new post, Trump’s Ally: Saudi Arabia’s drive for Aristocratic Hegemony in the Middle East.

    …The Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization, and Qatar, contrary to what Trump alleged, is not supporting terrorism. In fact, the common conceit in the West that Wahhabism is linked to terrorism would be hard to prove. Lots of Sunnis and Shiites have committed terrorist acts, as have Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus. Most Wahhabis go through life committing no violence. I even know relatively liberal Wahhabis who are more liberal than some Sunnis I know. The oil wealth has created a new generation of cosmopolitan Wahhabi young business people and professionals. There are still many strict puritans, of course, but puritanism, however annoying, is not terrorism. And let’s not forget that America was founded on puritanism.

    Qatar stands accused of using the Al Jazeera satellite t.v. station to promote the Muslim Brotherhood. (Religious Palestinians have long been important in its management and staffing). When the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2011-2012, claiming Islamic authority based on its populism and elections, that posed a severe threat to the Saudi monarchy, which suddenly had a religious and not just secular rival in Egypt. The Saudi elite was afraid Brotherhood influence would come over and challenge the monarchy.

    Hamas in Gaza is a distant branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (it is organized by country, so there is no common reporting line). That is one reason the Saudis dislike it and back the secular PLO.

    Qatar, from Riyadh’s point of view, is just not a team player. It has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and kindred movements in Egypt and Syria. It is allied with the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey. Qatar’s traditional policy is to keep lines open to Iran and to remain on speaking terms with the ayatollahs, while Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman wants to isolate Iran, cut off its government, and kill it. Qatar is on the exact opposite side from Iran in Syria, where it supported the Muslim Brotherhood rebels, some of whom morphed into radicals. But it doesn’t support the Salafis such as Jaysh al-Islam, who are backed by the Saudis.

    Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have lost in Syria to the Iran-Russia coalition. But since Qatar has no ambitions to be a regional hegemon (it is too tiny for that), they can live with that defeat and still hope to be influential among the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups in any post-war settlement. The Saudis are furious about their defeat and inability to dislodge Iran from Syria. The Saudis are on a war footing in their quest for hegemony, and so abhor grey areas. Everything is black and white to them, and Qatar is not following that logic.

  5. Meta
    Posted June 7, 2017 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    The Washington Post: “State Department distances itself from Trump, creating an alternate U.S. foreign policy:

    Trump said that the crisis between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors was evidence that his meetings with Arab states last month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were “paying off,” and he called out Qatar for financing terrorism.

    Those tweets seemed to directly contradict Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call on all parties to work together to resolve their differences and his offer to help mediate the crisis.

    Interestingly, Nauert’s prepared answers from her briefing book expressed support for Qatar, not for Trump’s tweets.

    “We recognize that Qatar has made some great efforts to stop financing of terror groups … more work needs to be done,” she said. “Our relationship with Qatar is strong.”

    Nauert also revealed that the United Arab Emirates only informed the U.S. government of the decision by four Gulf allies to sever ties with Qatar “immediately prior” to the decision being announced, which detracts from Trump’s assertion that this is good news for U.S. leadership in the region.

    Nauert attempted to square that circle by saying that the meetings in Riyadh produced progress in cooperation among regional actors in the fight against terrorism. One reporter bluntly pointed out that a major rift with Qatar only two weeks after Trump’s visit is actually evidence that the trip had the exact opposite effect.

    Nauert went off book to argue that this was simply a temporary bump in the road.

    “The meeting was about cooperation … that still holds,” Nauert tried to explain. “This is a rift right now that is taking place. The secretary and other countries have offered to get involved to mend this rift.”

    As she continued to read from her briefing book, Nauert criticized Chinese human rights abuses, called on Russia to join international pressure on North Korea and defended the rights of diplomats abroad to use their own social media to express positions using their own judgment. It became clear by the end of the briefing that the State Department was in a way conducting its own foreign policy, which may or may not line up with what the commander in chief believes or says.

    Multiple times Nauert fell back on a prepared line, quoting Tillerson saying that the State Department would just not weigh in on what Trump is saying about U.S. foreign policy.

    “The president has his own unique ways of communicating with the American people and that has served him pretty well,” she quoted Tillerson as saying.

    Trump’s tweets may in fact serve him well, but when the president creates diplomatic crises on a regular basis for no apparent reason, that doesn’t serve the country well. Nor does it allow for the U.S. government to have any coherent message that American citizens, foreign countries or even his own staffers can understand.

    If Tuesday’s briefing is any indication, the State Department’s plan is to push forward with its own policies and pretend they don’t contradict Trump. It’s an untenable strategy that will only serve to further confuse, and thereby harm, U.S. foreign policy.

    Read more:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2017/06/06/state-department-distances-itself-from-trump-creating-an-alternate-u-s-foreign-policy/

  6. Eric Trump
    Posted June 7, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Democrats aren’t even people.

    http://bit.ly/2rUCpq9

  7. stupid hick
    Posted June 7, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s as if our president was crazy, a real nut job.

  8. breaking news
    Posted June 8, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Brian Williams on @MSNBC says a source tells him and @NicolleDWallace they’re not sure Trump knew there were Americans stationed in Qatar.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted June 8, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Qatar leader rejects Trump’s White House invitation hill.cm/V25Ask7

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