Trump has made a killing from the Saudi-led alliance’s spat with Qatar, and intends to continue
By Abdel Bari Atwan
Thank God that US President Donald Trump cannot stop himself from talking. From time to time, he says things in his interviews and tweets which betray attitudes and secrets that are truly revealing. They go a long way to explaining his behaviour towards the Arab world and its people and politics, and the seemingly divergent views within his administration and its many institutions about the region’s problems, most recently the Qatar crisis.
A lengthy interview with Trump was broadcast at the weekend by the US TV channel CBN. Among other things, he touched on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s four-day shuttle in which he tried to mediate between Qatar and its adversaries in the four-way Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-Bahraini alliance, and also explained why he chose Riyadh to be the first stop on his first foreign trip since taking office.
It is important to note what Trump said on these two issues, and how he said it, to understand just how contemptuous this man is of the Arabs and how he has been playing games with them to milk their coffers.
On his trip to Riyadh, Trump boasted that he had demanded the Saudi authorities pay up hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of arms deals and investments in the US as a condition of accepting their invitation to visit. ‘I said: you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,’ he recalled. Only when they agreed to this condition did he make his way to the Saudi capital, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka who so charmed his hosts, his wife Milania, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a friend of Israeli Prime Minister Binyaman Netanyahu. Once there, Saudis officials were duly lined up to sign a series of big contracts with major US corporations ‘right in front of us.’
On Qatar, when questioned about the big US military base it hosts at al-Aideed, Trump maintained that there were ten countries willing to build an alternative base on their territory should it ever have to move out of Qatar. He stressed that these countries would themselves pay the multi-billion dollar cost of relocating the facility.
What Trump was saying quite clearly is that he did not go to Riyadh because of Saudi Arabia’s supposed religious stature in the Muslim world, or due to its regional or international political clout, but for one thing alone: money. He certainly got what he wanted. He returned home boasting that he had bagged billions of dollars worth of contracts and investments that would create jobs for unemployed Americans.
As for al-Aideed, there are only two countries – not ten – that would or could welcome hosting the base if it is moved out of Qatar. The first is Saudi Arabia, though it had to ask the US to move its bases out of its territory in the 1990s in response to threats by al-Qaida its leader Osama in Laden. The second is the UAE. The pair are the lynchpins of the anti-Qatar alliance, and only they have the financial resources to afford the cost of this base.
Trump is basically putting the base up for auction and waiting for the highest bidder to turn up. This starts with Qatar itself. Trump covets a big slice of the country’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund in return for keeping the base on Qatari soil — with the protection that is presumed to bring. But he is also open to bids from Riyadh, where he pocketed $110 billion in a single visit, and Abu Dhabi, whose own sovereign wealth fund is estimated at $900 billion or more.
We do not know who will bid highest in this auction. All we know – and can be absolutely sure of – is that Trump will continue subjecting the Gulf states to this kind of extortion for as long as he is the White House.
The apparently conflicting positions on the Gulf crisis within the US administration — with Trump, Tillerson and Defense Secretary Mattis all expressing different views – play into this scenario. Each actor has a different role. Tillerson seemingly sides with Qatar, signs an anti-terror funding agreement with Doha and expresses understanding of its refusal to comply with its accusors’ 13 demands. Trump, meanwhile, said in his interview that relations with Qatar had to be reassessed because the country was ‘known for funding terrorism… and we told them: you can’t do that.’ He added: ‘We have to starve the beast’ of terrorism, and ‘we can’t have wealthy countries funding that beast.’
Trump does not want to starve the beast of terrorism. It is his country which created and reared that beast and did its best to to fatten it, and still does. He wants to use it as a pretext to starve the people of the Gulf by plundering their coffers. It all boils down to being an elaborate confidence trick – with we Arabs as the dupes.