Qatar’s Wait-And-See Strategy
The severing of diplomatic ties between powerful Gulf Arab states and Qatar has complicated Western efforts to combat ISIS and stabilize the Middle East. But two factors – Qatar’s natural gas wealth, and its complicated relationship with the Trump administration – suggest that the current spat will not be easily resolved.
DOHA – When Gulf Arab powers announced on June 5 that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar over its ties to terrorists, the message was clear: get in line with regional policies, or pay the price. Nearly a week later, Qatar appears in no hurry to comply. And it is the incoherence of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy that is perpetuating the rift.
Tainting Qatar as a regional pariah is unlikely to change its calculus, for two reasons. For starters, the country is simply too wealthy to be pushed around easily. Qatar’s abundant supply of natural gas translates into the highest per capita income in the world. Even with trade and travel bans imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt, Qatar’s economy will not suffer significantly.
The second reason why Qatar can afford to wait out its neighbors is its strategic importance to the United States. By hosting the al-Udeid Air Base, which serves as America’s forward operating base in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), Qatar has shrewdly balanced its ties to Islamist extremists with a strong relationship to the US.