On June 5, 2017, the Persian Gulf was in a crisis. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposing an air, land, and sea blockade. The reason was Qatar’s coziness with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and its fomenting insurrection in its neighbors.
President Trump, in a series of tweets on June 6, indicated that he not only supported the blockade but claimed some measure of credit for it.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
He later tweeted: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding… extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
The crisis continued to metastasize, and by June 24, Saudi Arabia and its allies had issued an ultimatum to Qatar that sounded a lot like something the Austro-Hungarian Empire might have sent to Serbia in July 1914.
There were some oddities, in retrospect, that didn’t seem terribly odd at the time. President Trump was famously undisciplined on Twitter. On June 9, as President Trump was castigating Qatar as the center of terrorism in the Persian Gulf, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for calm.
On Friday afternoon, Tillerson called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue” to resolve the deepening dispute among Sunni Muslim states in the Persian Gulf. Barely an hour later, Trump’s comments were anything but that. He accused Qatar of being a “funder of terror at a very high level” and demanded that the tiny, energy-rich nation cut off that money flow to rejoin the circle of responsible nations.
“We had a decision to make,” Trump declared at a Rose Garden news conference with the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis. “Do we take the easy road or do we take a hard but necessary action?” he said. “We have to stop the funding of terrorism.”
A senior administration official insisted that Trump was “on the same page” as his secretary of state, even distributing a page to reporters on Air Force One that showed their statements on Qatar side by side. He also disputed that Mr. Trump’s comments about Article 5 represented a reversal, arguing, as the White House has before, that the president had already effectively endorsed it.
Thanks to an FBI investigation, we know much more about why this particular event occurred. Retired USMC General John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, was paid by Qatar to lobby National Security Adviser HR McMaster to “soften” the US position on Qatar. He approached McMaster using their personal friendship and argued that it served America’s best interests by toning down the rhetoric. He also implied that he had discussed the request with other NSC members, and they concurred.
To the point of this note, please … as you all may have heard yesterday in the holding room, and as you may know, I’ve been close to the Qataris for a long time and to that extent, I have their trust at several levels and among a number of the key leaders. They’ve asked me to shoot out to Doha over the weekend to discuss their situation. I’ll leave tonight and will report fully to you on the outbound leg probably late SUN or MON. I’ll be back MON latest. Having the background info you mentioned, HR, would be very helpful. From the POTUS phone call with the Qatari Emir on WED, I think the POTUS desire/offer to solve this through WH mediation is masterful. I told the Qs they need to seize on this opportunity very quickly as POTUS has thrown the Qataris a lifeline in this crisis . . . .
HR, the Qataris are asking for some help, though, in the short term. In their terms, the closure of the airspace in the region, and specifically the closure of the land border, places the emirate effectively “under siege” … their term. … What they’re asking is a follow-on signal to the region from the WH or DOS of a simple statement from the US: “… calling on all sides to seek a peaceful resolution to this crisis [and to act with restraint].” The bracketed phrase … to act with restraint … is something they’re specifically asking the US to say.”
Depending on the effectiveness of the Kuwaiti initiative, and should they set the conditions for a us led mediation, I’d assume we’d quietly ask the saudi/Emirati side to open the border/lift the airspace restrictions as an act of good will and good faith to POTUS (not to the Qataris, but to POTUS), permitting “the lifting of the siege” and enabling the Emir of Q to travel for the final mediation.
McMaster relayed the request to Tillerson, who made the requested statement that afternoon.
The search warrant for Allen’s electronic files was accidentally made public, and for your edification…and perhaps amusement…it can be read below.
Allen Search Warrant on Scribd
If you are interested in all the investigation details, the Washington Post has an excellent summary.
As I see it, these are the main points.
First, Qatar has a pernicious influence on Washington politics. This bit of criminality is very much in line with the Washington Post being a pipeline for Qatari propaganda. The late, dismembered Jamal Khashoggi used the WaPo’s editorial pages to launder Qatari press releases (Washington Post Hints What Others Have Known: Jamal Khashoggi Was a Paid Qatari Intelligence Asset). It, like China, is an object case that if a nation is willing to spend enough money, then America’s political, economic, and academic elites are all for sale.
Second, it is a clarion call for an overhaul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act to make the law clearly constitutional, easy to understand, hard to evade, and very, very painful to violate. The fact that Allen could obtain the access he did without ever disclosing that he was getting paid by a foreign government is unconscionable.
Third, if you were one of those who doubted the existence of the “deep state,” you couldn’t have a better illustration. A paid agent of a foreign and sometimes hostile government could rescind the national policy articulated by the President of the United States by trading off a friendship.
While good-government types frequently suffer from fecal incontinence over “lobbyists,” they are nearly, without exception, in awe of “think tanks.” What the Allen episode shows us is that think tanks are much, much more dangerous than lobbyists. When a lobbyist calls, the mark knows they are dealing with a lobbyist, and usually, mere money and contracts are at stake. On the other hand, when the head of a high-powered think tank like Brookings calls, you assume they are acting in good faith. On a related note, given how hard Brookings pushed the Russia Hoax conspiracy theory, one now has to wonder if they did it out of stupidity, blind partisanship, or because they were getting cash to do so.