Fareed Zakaria says Saudi Arabia's hostility toward Qatar was already proving problematic
Zakaria: "Trump gave a green light to the Saudis to pursue their increasingly aggressive, sectarian foreign policy"
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday urged President Trump to tread carefully with his strategy toward relations with the Middle East, especially when it comes to Qatar.
“Donald Trump returned from his first overseas trip convinced that he had unified America’s historic Arab allies, dealt a strong blow against terrorism and calmed the waters of an unruly Middle East,” said Zakaria on his show, “GPS.”
But since then, Zakaria pointed out, the world has seen “a series of terror attacks in Europe and the Middle East and an open split within the Arab world.”
What’s more, he emphasized, this week, Saudi Arabia began leading a group of countries to break off relations with Qatar, putting the United States in a tenuous position. Nine nations have so far moved to indefinitely sever ties with Qatar, a country of nearly 2.3 million people. Saudi Arabia has severed all land, sea and air links with the country, and Qatari citizens have been given 14 days to leave Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
All this showed that Trump’s strategy of strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia to fight terror and stabilize the region had spectacularly backfired, said Zakaria.
“Trump gave a green light to the Saudis to pursue their increasingly aggressive, sectarian foreign policy,” he said.
“The first element of that policy has been to excommunicate its longtime rival, Qatar,” he added.
Though Zakria conceded that Qatar “has supported some extremist Islamic movements,” he pointed out that “so has Saudi Arabia.”
“Both are Wahhabi countries, both have within them extremist preachers, both are widely believed to have armed Islamic groups in Syria and elsewhere,” Zakaria said.
“Their differences are really geopolitical, though they are often dressed up as ideological,” he added.
But, he emphasized, the open split between the two countries will create much greater regional instability.
“Qatar will now move closer to Iran and Turkey, forging deeper alliances with anti-Saudi groups throughout the Muslim world. The battles between various factions of militants – in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and North Africa – will heat up,” Zakaria warned.
“So much for regional stability!” he added.
Meanwhile, he said, “America was in the middle of it all, trying to keep close relationships with Saudi Arabia while also keeping operations going out of its US regional military base in Qatar.
Now, Zakaria said, the best policy would be to try to find a way to “maintain ties with all regional players,”
“If the Trump administration wants stability in the Middle East, it should help to broker a new balance of power. This cannot happen purely on Saudi terms,” he said.
The longer Donald Trump’s administration waits to do so, Zakaria argued, “the longer the instability will grow.”
“Donald Trump recently learned that health care is complicated. Welcome to the Middle East!” he said.