A report in the Financial Times suggests one additional element that may have sparked the blowup:
Qatar paid up to $1B to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal — one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.Commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region told the Financial Times that Doha spent the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by jihadis in Syria. By their telling, Qatar paid off two of the most frequently blacklisted forces of the Middle East in one fell swoop: an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria and Iranian security officials.
So what’s going on here and what should the United States do? The first step, veteran Middle East watchers suggest, would be to figure out precisely what the Saudis are up to. One former official with Middle East experience counsels that if the object is changing Qatar’s government, we should steer clear of the situation. And if the Saudis and Emirates are successful in forcing a regime change, we should assist in keeping Qatar’s partner Iran at bay. If what they have in mind is really to scare the Qataris, we should join them, the expert urges, with some tough statements about the need to prevent any and all forms of aid and comfort to radical voices.
Asked about the development, “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, traveling in Australia on Monday, asserted that the developments would not affect the U.S.-led coalition fighting Sunni extremist groups in the Middle East.”
We should hope not, but here’s a perfect example of the administration’s delinquency in filling key spots. The Trump administration has not appointed its own ambassadors to any of the countries involved, even Saudi Arabia. It has not nominated its own assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. (“Acting” officials fill the spots for now.) Edelman observes that “this is only one example of many. [The administration] should be represented everywhere. “
That’s certainly not the case. No nominee has even been named for the vast majority of the 120 political positions available to be filled at the State Department. With no undersecretaries or assistant secretaries of his own, Tillerson relies on a handful of staffers, who are attempting to run a giant department. If you spend your time running around to put out fires every day, deliberate planning and careful examination of issues fall by the wayside. And when additional issues or real crises are added to the mix, harried aides simply do not have the bandwidth to handle them.
The administration for now is nonchalant about the split among our Sunni allies. Perhaps it will get lucky, and this will quickly resolve itself without hampering our effort to defeat Sunni jihadists and without tempting Iran to intervene. However, no State Department should operate on the hope and the prayer that small problems won’t grow or unexpected emergencies never arise. History tells us quite the opposite.