Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Qatar Crisis and the Absurd Saudi Ultimatum

No government with any self-respect would submit to these demands.

The Saudis and their allies have presented Qatar with a maximalist set of demands that seem designed to be rejected:

Saudi Arabia and its allies presented Qatar with a list of demands to end a three-week diplomatic crisis that has roiled the Gulf, the Associated Press reported.

The 13-point list includes shutting the Al-Jazeera TV network, cutting back diplomatic ties with Iran, severing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and ending Turkey’s military presence in Qatar, AP said, citing a document from one of the boycotting countries. Those nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — gave Qatar 10 days to respond, AP said.

This ultimatum amounts to calling for near-total capitulation. No government with any self-respect would submit to these demands, and no one interested in trying to resolve the crisis peacefully would issue such a far-reaching and unrealistic ultimatum. Of course, the purpose in giving Qatar a list like this is to create a pretext for escalation when they reject it, as they seem almost certain to do. The Saudi government is proving once again that it is a destabilizing force and regional menace, and the divergence of its interests and ours is becoming more obvious all the time.

If there was any doubt that the goal of the campaign against Qatar is primarily to settle old scores and force them to toe the Saudi-Emirati line, these demands remove it. Calling on them to close down Al Jazeera, reduce ties with Iran, and close Turkey’s military base in the country shows that the campaign has always been aimed at weakening a rival government and putting an end to its somewhat independent foreign policy. Under different circumstances, the U.S. would denounce this ultimatum as a flagrant attempt to coerce a small state into changing its foreign policy, but the incoherent response from Washington (criticism from State and full-throated support from the White House) has meant that the states targeting Qatar will ignore any warnings from Washington. They heard Trump tell them very plainly in Riyadh last month that they can do whatever they want in the region, and as long as they dress it up as “anti-terrorism” he will credulously play along.



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