Analysis by Kyle A. Lohmeier
President Trump pivoted rather quickly yesterday, turning from offering to help ‘deescalate’ the growing rift between Qatar and its regional neighbors the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to joining in the condemnation of Qatar’s support and funding of radical Islamic terror groups.
According to Foreign Policy Magazine’s Simon Henderson, there are two likely explanations for how the region found itself on the brink of crisis.
“There are at least two narratives for how we got here. If you believe the government of Qatar, the official Qatar News Agency was hacked on May 24 and a fake news story was transmitted quoting Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as saying, ‘There is no reason behind Arabs’ hostility to Iran.’ The allegedly false report reaffirmed Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, as well as claiming Doha’s relations with Israel were good.
The government-influenced media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, adopted an alternative narrative, treating the news story as true and responding quickly with a burst of outrage. The emir’s comments were endlessly repeated and, to the anger of Doha, internet access to Qatari media was blocked so that the official denial could not be read,” he wrote on June 5,” Henderson wrote.
Indeed, he was correct to say “at least two” because CNN managed to whip up their own theory. Guess who’s tied to the chair when Fred and Velma pull off the villain’s mask this time?
“US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation,” reads the lead of Evan Perez’ and Shimon Prokupecz’ piece today for CNN.
In traditional news style, CNN managed to get some “what’s” in the lead and a “where.” The “how” was omitted and the “who’s” all went unnamed. Poor “When” was just ignored. “Why” wasn’t even considered as it’s so nonsensical it was saved for later in the piece.
“US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies,” CNN reported, again, not ever naming who these “US officials” are, or he “US investigators” who brief them.
So, CNN is reporting a hypothesis as fact based on unnamed “sources.”
“There is a possibility that the initial hacking was orchestrated by Tehran, which was annoyed by the anti-Iran posture of the May 20-21 summit in Riyadh, when President Donald Trump met King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman and representatives of dozens of Muslim states. On June 3, the Twitter account of Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa was hacked for several hours in an incident his government blamed on Shiite opposition activists, rather than pointing the finger at Iran. Iran’s motive would be to show Gulf disunity — as well as its irritation with Trump’s endorsement of the GCC stance against Tehran,” Henderson wrote, describing a far more likely scenario as he was able to at least describe actual people and real events in context that actually sort of explains why Iran might have been motivated to mess with Qatar.
At any rate, there are far fewer assumptions in Henderson’s hypothesis than CNN’s; which is based upon nothing but.
The entire region is a tangled web of alliances, grievances, tribal and religious rifts and other outlying factors that serve to motivate the powerful elite. Understanding it from a Western perspective is nearly impossible.
“For its part, Qatar sees itself as a victim of a plot by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which have had a traditionally antagonistic relationship with Doha despite the shared membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Riyadh views Qatar, which, like the kingdom, gives Wahhabi Islam a central role as a regional troublemaker. Doha, which allows women to drive and foreigners to drink alcohol, in turn blames the Saudis for giving Wahhabism a bad name. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi despises Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the UAE,” Henderson wrote.
Much of the region is ruled by dynastic monarchies, and that itself even plays a role in how national leaders in that region think.
“Although there was an awkward eight-month diplomatic hiatus in 2014, the root of today’s trouble harkens back to 1995, when Emir Tamim’s father, Hamad, ousted his increasingly feckless and absent father from power in Doha. Saudi Arabia and the UAE regarded the family coup as a dangerous precedent to Gulf ruling families and plotted against Hamad. According to a diplomat resident in Doha at the time, the two neighbors organized several hundred tribesmen for a mission to murder Hamad, two of his brothers, as well as the ministers of foreign affairs and energy, and restore the old emir. The UAE even put attack helicopters and fighter aircraft on alert to support the attempt, which never actually happened because one of the tribesmen betrayed the plot hours before it was to take place,” Henderson wrote.
The US operates an airbase in Qatar that serves as a command center for military operations throughout the region in the never-ending war against “terror.” Tuesday, Trump shifted away from offering to help deescalate the conflict to praising the gulf states for taking a “hard line on funding … extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of the end of the horror of terrorism.”
Meanwhile, prior to Trump’s Tuesday tweets, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t expect the regional rift to affect US military operations based out of Qatar, it remains to be seen if Trump’s apparent shift in tone will make any difference.
At any rate, to my jaundiced eye, the most interesting thing about this whole Game of Thrones, Persian Gulf Edition is CNN’s coverage of it; which gives us these three competing hypothesis for the origin of the article that served as the genesis point for this current diplomatic standoff.
The first, as Henderson reported, is that Iran or Shi’ite activists loyal to Iran hacked into Qatar’s state news agency to plant a story they hoped would damage Qatar’s reputation and lead to regional isolation while further stirring up the rest of the region; possibly even prompting some Qatar’s historic rivals to act upon long-simmering dissatisfaction with the regime, which is what seems to be happening now.
The second is that the story isn’t fake and that Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani really did say all those things he immediately and repeatedly denied ever saying; therefore, the gulf states angry at Qatar have reason to be so and so too does the USA. This hypothesis, which appears to have been embraced by the Trump White House, begs the question as to why the Emir of Qatar would say a bunch of things that would only serve to inflame the region, and the world, against him.
And, then we have the third “hypothesis,” which CNN tagged as an “exclusive” on their website -naturally, because CNN made it up – that suggests Russian intelligence agents expertly crafted a fake news story tailored perfectly to stir up long-standing regional rivalries and hostilities between the various Gulf states, and then hacked into Qatar’s state news agency to plant it there, because doing so would hurt the USA. Somehow.