Bassima Alghussein and Jeffrey Stacey analyze how the Saudis and their allies botched their campaign against Qatar:
The Saudi-led group has made missteps from the start, beginning with pushing Qatar directly into Iran and Turkey’s hands by cutting it off with an economic blockade and thus requiring immediate food shipments from these countries. That, in turn, has created significant commercial benefits for Iran in addition to further solidifying the Qatari-Iranian diplomatic relationship. As such, the blockade is unlikely to result in Qatar’s returning to the GCC fold. Rather, it will essentially affirm that the new leadership in Saudi Arabia has a penchant for overplaying its hand [bold mine-DL].
In addition to Saudi Arabia driving Qatar closer to Iran, its behavior has weakened the GCC—a body that is fundamental for regional stability and commerce. Notably, Kuwait is not participating in the boycott; in fact, the Kuwaiti emir has traveled throughout the region in a frantic effort to patch things up between the newfound rivals and preserve the viability of the GCC.
The Saudi-led bloc made many mistakes common among hard-liners everywhere: they greatly underestimated the difficulty of what they were trying to do, they set unrealistic goals, they overrated their own power, they failed to think through the effects of their actions, and they assumed everything would go according to plan. Of course, if they had thought things through, they probably would have realized that it would be a risky and potentially costly gamble that wasn’t worth doing, but then thinking ahead has not been one of the strengths of the Saudi leadership in recent years. Then the government the bloc was targeting didn’t meekly submit as they expected, and instead cultivated closer ties with Turkey and Iran that the bloc wanted to curtail. Because it never occurred to these governments that their initial attempts at intimidation would fail, they had no backup plan and left themselves with no easy way out of the impasse they created.
This has happened in part because the Saudi-led bloc is ruled by men that aren’t good at assessing risk or considering the consequences of their policies. That is especially true of the Saudi leadership, which has shown several times in just the last few years that they are hasty, reckless, and remarkably incompetent in conducting their foreign policy. It is also the fruit of Trump’s ill-advised embrace of the Saudis, as the authors note later on:
Unfortunately, by speaking so forcefully against Iran and in favor of Saudi Arabia during his recent trip to the region, Trump appears to have been the primary catalyst for the blockade, when he could have just as easily used the opportunity to discuss the war on ISIS.
The administration’s Iran obsession and the close alignment with the Saudis that comes with it are doing real harm to both regional stability and U.S. interests, and the Qatar crisis is just one example of this.