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Trump Appears To Side With Arab Countries In Rift With Qatar


With a few tweets, President Trump has jumped into a tangled diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region. Quote, "during my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of radical ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look." And in doing that, President Trump seems to be siding with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries that are cutting their relationships with Qatar.

But Qatar is home to thousands of American troops at a major U.S. military base in the region. Gregory Gause is an expert on the Gulf region and a professor at the Texas A&M University. And he's here in the studio now. Welcome.


MCEVERS: The president is basically suggesting here with these tweets that he encouraged the Saudis to cut ties with the Qataris. What are the potential consequences of choosing sides like this?

GAUSE: Well, the Qataris don't have many choices if the United States isn't going to back them up. Qatar is home to the largest American air base in the Middle East. I think the reason it's there, from a Qatari perspective, is to protect Qatar and give it some autonomy from Saudi Arabia to pursue the kinds of independent foreign policy initiatives it's pursued for the last 20 years.

MCEVERS: Yeah, so let's game that out. I mean, how would that change Qatari foreign policy going forward?

GAUSE: I think there would be three big areas. One would be Qatar's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and other oppositional political groups within the Middle East within the Arab world. Second would be some kind of cutting or at least lessening of Qatar's relationship with Iran at a time when Saudi Arabia is confronting Iran directly on all sorts of fronts in the region.

Thirdly, it would be reigning in of Al Jazeera and other Qatari-funded media, which is just an irritant to these governments 'cause they see Al Jazeera as the platform through which opposition members talk to their own publics.

MCEVERS: And yet the president continues to sort of hammer on this issue of funding for terrorism. Here's another one of the tweets. (Reading) So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all the reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.

I mean, is this an accurate reflection of what's going on, that it's the Qataris who are funding terrorism and nobody else?

GAUSE: No, I don't think so. No Gulf government funds ISIS directly. That would be just beyond the pale. Qatar is less stringent about regulating the movement of private monies. That's been a complaint of American administration since 9/11. And so there is some merit to this charge. But you're not going to drive out terrorism as a tactic because you dry up the sources of funding.

I mean, how much money did it take for those guys to kill people in London a couple of days ago? I don't think that this is the beginning of the end of anything.

MCEVERS: You know, conflicts between Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis and Egyptians and Qatar, they're not new. I mean, you talked about this. It's not just about funding. It's about Iran, it's about the Muslim Brotherhood. What's the usual U.S. stance in this conflict?

GAUSE: The usual U.S. stance is what Secretary Tillerson expressed yesterday, which is we want our friends to get together, work together and not have fights among each other. The operation of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is an extremely important part of the United States' campaign against ISIS and thus the reflexive American position is basically settle down, guys, and to try to prevent the escalation of these local disputes.

The interesting thing is that even though Secretary Tillerson took what was the traditional American position on this yesterday, the president seems to have taken another position and very strongly backed the Saudis on this.

MCEVERS: And so what does that signal to the world when you're out of step with your own State Department?

GAUSE: I think it signals to the world that you should look at what's tweeted out of Washington and not necessarily what the secretary of state says when he's in Australia.

MCEVERS: Gregory Gause is head of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. Thank you very much.

GAUSE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.