One thing my limited experience living abroad taught me is humility about my ability to interpret geopolitical events. The facts themselves are not always accessible through media reports, and even if the facts are clear there are points of view to take into account. I have read media accounts of events I personally experienced, like elections and demonstrations, in both the foreign media and the U.S. media, and often felt that they were not an accurate depiction of what I saw with my own eyes. So taking all that into account, I am somewhat agnostic when trying to interpret events in countries I have never set foot in, where local media is tightly controlled, and where U.S. media and government probably have limited access to accurate local information. All that said, I am interested and trying to make sense of the events surrounding Qatar and Saudi Arabia. For one thing, I have a ticket on Qatar Airways later in the year so it does affect me personally. And for another, any risk of war and especially nuclear war in the Middle East affects everyone on Earth personally. So here goes:
I have always assumed that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar represented a monolithic geopolitical force. And I generally thought the United States, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey were part of this block for most purposes most of the time. Clearly I was wrong about that. Saudi Arabia’s alliances are contradictory. For one thing, they are publicly an enemy of Israel. But they and Israel have a common ally in the United States and a common enemy in Iran, the Syrian government, elements in Iraq, Hezbollah, and to some extent Russia. Saudi Arabia is closely allied with Pakistan’s military and according to many independent media accounts has bankrolled Pakistan’s nuclear program. During the Cold War the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan worked together to fund and equip the Afghan resistance, elements of which later mutated into the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS, and became public enemy #1 for the United States. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the rest of the Arab world seem to have a complex relationship with these groups, where governments see them as a threat but portions of the population support them. Then you have the complex relationships between the United States and various groups in Iraq and Syria, wars that seemingly have three or more sides. Then of course there is the complicated Israel-Palestine situation, which fuels a lot of anger in populations throughout the region, and which governments talk a lot about but seem to take very little action.
So the Middle East is a mess and very hard for those of us outside the region to interpret. And none of what I just said comes close to explaining the situation in Qatar. Those of us outside the region should all have a certain humility in understanding that there is a lot we don’t understand. My two cents is that the United States should err on the side of not interfering militarily but also work very hard through the UN to work on arms reductions and especially prevent nuclear proliferation.