President Donald Trump's boasting the decision of five Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, to suspend diplomatic relations with Qatar was his inspiration could upset the very Sunni coalition his own administration has been trying to bring together in order to confront Iran and Russia, former U.S. ambassadors to the Middle East told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
"The president is empowering the Saudis, and they will simply take this and blow up what could have been a strong regional coalition against Iran and Russia," said James Jeffrey, who served in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations as ambassador to Iraq and Turkey. "Trump is taking the side of an ally (Saudi Arabia) that needs to be managed and controlled, not empowered."
In a series of tweets the president sent out Tuesday morning, he took credit for the move against Qatar.
However, as CNN points out, the tweets contradicted Trump's own stated position during his speech last month at the summit in Saudi Arabia, where he praised Qatar as a "crucial strategic partner."
Complicating matters further is the major U.S. base in the region is located in Qatar and is crucial as the main regional center for daily air missions in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.
In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, recognizing the importance of Qatar to American interests, sought to downplay the dispute among the Arab nations and avoid taking sides in a joint news conference from Australia on Monday, the Examiner reported.
But the experts said that message threatened to be sabotaged by Trump's tweets.
Although the other Arab states said Qatar supports terrorism, this is part of a dispute among them for regional supremacy, as Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region have also been accused of spreading Islamic extremism that fuels terrorism.
Gerald Feierstein, who was U.S. ambassador to Yemen in the Obama administration, told the Examiner members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have long had such disagreements about support for extremism, and U.S. policy traditionally has been to let them resolve these disputes themselves.
"The solidarity of the GCC is important to achieve goals in regional security and stability, and while we would like to see changes with Qatar, it is important to do that in a way that does not inflict lasting damage on the GCC," he said.
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