Thanks to David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times for the background; unless otherwise stated, the quotations are from his June 17th article in the Times.
Not long after President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, where a gathering of top representatives of regional Arab governments met, a conflict burst forth in the Persian Gulf area that centered on the very small, but very wealthy, nation of Qatar. This is a problem for the U.S., because it involves three of our crucial allies in conflict with each other: Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates vs Qatar.
Kirkpatrick writes: "The feud in the Persian Gulf flared up on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Arab allies all broke off trade, travel and diplomatic relations with Qatar as punishment for what they said was its support of terrorism. Scholars of the region and American diplomats, however, said the dispute appeared to have more to do with jostling over power and autonomy."
Background for Trump's involvement is this, according to Kirkpatrick: "President Trump has
done business with royals from Saudi Arabia for at least 20 years, since he
sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership formed by a Saudi prince. Mr. Trump has
earned millions of dollars from the United Arab Emirates for putting his name
on a golf course, with a second soon to open. He has never entered
the booming market in neighboring Qatar, however, despite years of trying. . . .
"Now a feud has
broken out among these three crucial American allies, and Mr. Trump has thrown
his weight firmly behind the two countries where he has business ties, raising
new concerns about the appearance of a conflict between his public role and his
This is complicated by the fact that Qatar is the location of the largest American air base in the Middle East, with some 11,000 military personnel. Qatar also has the largest natural gas reserves in the world, and it is the home of Al Jazeera, the media empire that publishes and broadcasts for Westerners. A number of major U.S. universities have established joint programs in Qatar, raising its educational level to one of the highest in the region.
Trump's position of frankly and openly siding with those who are trying to blockade Qatar has made it difficult for the Pentagon and State Department, whose leaders are trying to stay neutral, while "urging unity against the common enemy of the Islamic State." Secretary of State Tillerson has called on Qatar to "be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors," while also calling for the Saudis, the Emirate, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade of Qatar, which he notes is "impairing international trade and hindering the military campaign against the Islamic State."
Trump, on the other hand, "endorsed the blockade as soon as it started." It occurred just days after his royal treatment on his trip to Riyadh -- so he declared on Twitter that his visit was "already paying off." He defended the blockade again -- just hours after Tillerson's call to end it.
I will not include all the details in Kirkpatrick's article about Trump's business dealings in this area. Suffice it to say that they go back at least to 1995, when the sale of the Plaza Hotel to the Saudi prince saved Trump from defaulting on a loan. He has bragged: "The Saudis buy apartments from me. . . . They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them?" And that only scratches the surface of the Trump financial dealings on golf courses and other developments.
So, one wonders . . . quite seriously: Who's side is Donald Trump on? It matters . . . a lot.