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6/25/17

USA: Qatar blockade exposes rifts in Trump administration's 'peculiar' foreign policy - by Julian Borger

The crisis created by the ultimatum delivered to Qatar by the Saudi-led Gulf coalition has been deepened by mixed messages from Washington.

While Donald Trump has declared himself wholeheartedly behind the blockade on Qatar, the state and defense departments have been sharply critical of the move, in private and in public.

The defence secretary, James Mattis, rushed to assure Doha of continuing support, mindful that US air operations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan fly out of the al-Udeid base, just outside the Qatari capital. Six days after Trump joined Riyadh in denouncing Qatar as a “funder of terrorism at a very high level”, Mattis signed a $12bn arms deal with the Qataris.

The state department issued a stinging rebuke of the behaviour of the Saudis and their Egyptian, Emirati and Bahraini allies, with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, warning them to make their demands on Qatar “reasonable and actionable”.

Now that the list of 13 demands has been presented and Qatar has been given 10 days to comply, much will depend on what is seen as being reasonable and actionable.

On Thursday, state spokeswoman Heather Nauert would not be drawn on the question. “I think that they [the Gulf protagonists] will know exactly what things are reasonable and what things are actionable,” she said.

In reality, both sides in the dispute are accustomed to looking to the US for guidance. However, guidance from Washington has seldom been less clear.

Different parts of the US executive have often had very different approaches to foreign policy problems. During the Obama administration, for example, the White House was far more risk-averse and non-interventionist than the Pentagon and the state department over Syria. But rarely, if ever, have the disagreements been so open, and the signalling so chaotic. The result has been to increase the risk of miscalculation in an already dangerous row.

The immediate crisis can be traced back directly to Trump’s first trip abroad as president, to Riyadh on 20 May, when he was feted and showered with flattery. Trump vaunted Saudi leadership and decisively sided with the Sunni Gulf states against Iran. Less publicly, Trump appears tacitly or explicitly to have given the green light to the Saudi royals to go on the offensive against its truculent neighbour.

When the Qatar blockade was declared, Trump cheered it on in tweets, triggering alarm and countervailing moves from the Pentagon and state department.

Read more: Qatar blockade exposes rifts in Trump administration's 'peculiar' foreign policy | US news | The Guardian

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