Donald Trump is stooping to new lows. He evidently has no reservations about making himself, the sitting U.S. President, into the Saudis’ chief global lobbyist.
That Trump bought the Saudi line about the Qataris funding terrorism is very telling.
Both countries, respectively, support Wahhabist or Salafist insurgencies in various places, but that is not what the Saudis find objectionable.
The Saudis try to distract from their own actions
There is no question about the Saudis’ longstanding willingness to fund and arm specific terrorist groups as needed, mainly to advance allied autocracies and send young hotheads abroad, often to the West.
The Qataris pursue a different approach in the terrorism financing business.
They tend to make longer-term investments in other religious or ideological factions. And yes, these do pose an existential threat to Saudi interests.
For that reason, it is fully comprehensible why the Saudis would want to direct attention to Qatar.
What is not comprehensible is that President Trump has fallen for that very transparent act of distraction.
Trump worries about “regime change” too
At the same time, it is important to recognize that to be horrified by regime change is something that Donald Trump immediately gets – and a fear he instinctively shars with the Saudis. No wonder he regards them as soulmates.
As is the case with the Saudi monarchy itself, Trump’s entire political being is based on the conviction that anybody who dares stand in his way in any fashion is guilty of lèse majesté, if not worse.
That is why he had no qualms about taking sides in the bataille royale.
Europe as collateral damage: So what?
Trump also had no problems with the fact that the fallout of an actual Saudi-Qatar war is bound to go far beyond the Gulf region and the wider Middle East. It would definitely, quite literally, hit European capitals and cities.
As Mr. Trump has made plain in his pompous appearance at NATO headquarters, he is not one to worry much about the U.S.’s NATO allies.
In his disturbed mind, he might even think that the Europeans — who still owe him billions of dollars — basically deserve a hit. So why worry? Any avenue taken to make them come to their senses is welcome.
The fallout from absolving the Saudis
Trump’s sycophantic support notwithstanding, the real damage of his words is not just that Trump absolves the Saudis of any of their own responsibility for terror.
What is widely overlooked in that regard is that Trump’s full-scale blessing has effectively killed the — however hesitant — move toward domestic reform in Saudi Arabia.
Given the deteriorating economic regime, the Saudi royals were getting ready to reform themselves, not least because, under President Obama, they no longer had reflexive U.S. backing.
Now that the Saudis aren’t just back in favor in Washington, but get to run Trump’s table, who in Riyadh is to worry about reforms – other than cosmetic ones?
Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine, and a columnist in newspapers around the world. He is also the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, which is aired on public radio stations all across the United States. In addition, Mr. Richter is a keynote speaker at international conferences — and the author of the 1992 book, “Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect.” Follow him on Twitter @theglobalist.