Tomorrow will be a year since the start of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, and since then the “quartet” of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain have not been able to force Qatar to yield to any of their demands. On the contrary, Alexander Griffing explains that the blockade has backfired completely and has left the small emirate on a stronger footing than before:
As the one-year anniversary of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar approaches, reports by international organizations suggest the small Persian Gulf emirate has not only turned around its dire financial prospects but also improved its human rights record and geopolitical standing.
The “Qatar crisis,” as the land, air and sea blockade by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates quickly became known, was meant to break the Qatari economy and force the country’s emir to give in to a set of demands from the Saudis – namely to fall in line with Saudi leadership of the Gulf, shut down Al Jazeera and cut ties with Saudi arch enemy Iran. The tiny emirate of roughly 2.5 million people, led by the 37-year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has refused to comply with any of the demands and remained defiant in the face of pressure from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, 32, and his campaign for regional domination.
Instead of submitting to the Saudi-led bloc’s absurd ultimatum and falling in line behind its neighbors, Qatar has strengthened its ties with Turkey and Iran and used its influence in Washington to resist one of the more egregious examples of incompetent and reckless Saudi foreign policy in the last few years. The treatment Qatar has received from the “quartet” has been so excessive and heavy-handed that it was bound to generate some sympathy for them, and Qatar’s government has exploited this reaction very effectively. Despite recent Saudi threats of possible military action, Qatar seems determined to chart its own independent course in foreign policy. The blockade has undeniably failed on its own terms, and Mohammed bin Salman can add it to his growing record of failure. In addition to the costs that the blockade has imposed on all parties, it has fractured the Gulf Cooperation Council and rendered that organization all but useless.
It is worth recalling that the Qatar crisis began shortly after Trump’s Riyadh visit last year, and it was during that visit that he gave the Saudis and Emiratis what they took to be a green light for their actions. In the days and weeks that followed, Trump initially took credit for causing the crisis and then repeatedly endorsed the blockade and undermined the efforts of his own Secretaries of State and Defense to mediate the crisis. As time has gone by, the White House has become less openly supportive of the Saudi-led bloc, but it is also clear that the administration is incapable of or unwilling to put any pressure on the bloc to get them to relent. The U.S. should never have chosen sides at any point during the crisis, and the decision to throw in with the Saudis and Emiratis early on made it that much more difficult to resolve the standoff.