The official story is that Saudi Arabia, supported by Egypt, the Emirates, Bahrain and other sidekicks in the Gulf, is trying to isolate Qatar from the rest of the Arab world as punishment for betraying the Sunni cause and for financing jihadhi terrorism. Like all lies, this one contains an element of truth which conceals other aspects of the situation which must not be brought to light, much less focussed on.
The official story is that Saudi Arabia, supported by Egypt, the Emirates, Bahrain and other sidekicks in the Gulf, is trying to isolate Qatar from the rest of the Arab world as punishment for betraying the Sunni cause and for financing jihadhi terrorism. Like all lies, this one contains an element of truth which conceals other aspects of the situation which must not be brought to light, much less focussed on. It’s true that Qatar has financed the Lebanese Hezbollah to the tune of $700million and has given another $300million to some Syrian jihadist groups. It has also copiously funded Baghdadi’s Isis and al-Nusra and has business and economic relations with the Iranian enemy, including running a large natural gas field in the Persian Gulf. When the Emir of Qatar made a phone call to congratulate Iranian President Hassan Rohani on his re-election, this was a real provocation in the eyes of the suspicious Saudi monarchy, who has always sought to keep Qatar out of the orbit of the Shiite regime. What must not be mentioned, is that the very Arab regimes who are now condemning Qatar have funded jihadist organisations, have allowed the birth and development of the Islamic State, and have supported al-Nusra by all manner of means. But this is no secret. The real skeletons in the cupboards of these countries are very different and concern the imperialist relations that are about to be modified and accelerated from within and without.
But let’s take it in order. In fact the Saudi initiative occurred soon after Trump’s visit to Riyadh. In this case the American president – the worst at diplomacy (and not only diplomacy) that Washington has had in the last few decades, has been thoroughly impressive. – The visit was intended to patch up a relationship which had heavily fractured over energy issues as well as other matters by giving King Salman credits worth $110 billion for rearmament and $200bn for infrastructure at a time of economic and social crisis for the Saudi monarchy. This breath of oxygen has prompted Riyadh to stifle Qatar's ambitions within the Sunni world where, after three years of falling crude oil prices, the Saudi kingdom no longer has the same financial wherewithal as before. Whilst the Saudis initiated hostilities against US oil, aiming to push down the price of crude, it is equally true that the manoeuvre ended up boomeranging against Riyadh’s interests. On the other hand, Qatar – the world’s top liquid natural gas producer ¬– has been able to increase its energy revenues and so develop its ambition to play a stronger imperialist role in the various international markets and within the Arab world. Saudi acrimony stems precisely from this fear that the small, but financially powerful, Qatar may carve out increasingly wider economic, political and religious spaces for itself, threatening Saudi supremacy within the Sunni world and more generally in the overall Arab scene. The former British protectorate, which also hosts an important US base and which has made partial steps towards President Trump, now possesses almost more property in London than the British monarchy, including Harrods department store, the sophisticated Shard skyscraper built by Renzo Piano, part of Canary Wharf and the London Stock Exchange, plus land and hotels on the Costa Smeralda, the futuristic Porta Nuova in Milan and the Valentino brand. The activity of the small but exhilarating monarchy of Al-Thani is obviously not limited to global shopping. It also invests in production, as it did in Germany where it has bought shares in Porsche and Volkswagen. Strengthened by this tremendous availability of capital, Qatar is trying to exploit the weaknesses and contradictions of the region to increase its own leadership, even at the cost of granting political recognition to Iranian, Lebanese or Iraqi brands of Shi’ism, but this has inevitably brought it into collision with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Aside from the instrumental excuse of financing terrorism, the real game remains their respective strengths at the level of imperialist power.
For Saudi Arabia the main aim is to maintain its Sunni leadership, which means continuing to play a key role within OPEC to control the quantity of oil produced throughout the area as well as determining its selling price. Finally, it aims for hegemonic control in military terms across the Persian Gulf. The struggle against its Iranian enemy and competitor, including military intervention in Yemen against the Houthi, Shiite rebels who are backed by the Tehran government, stems from these imperialist needs. Thus Saudi Arabia, supported by the US, did not hesitate for a minute to cut off all land, air and sea links with Doha, creating a sort of security belt around the ambitions of the Emir Al-Thani by the formation of an anti-Qatar coalition which it has ‘obliged’ the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen to join. But it is a sign of the upping of imperialist games in the that an opposing front has immediately arisen to support Al-Thani. Iran, under its new president Rohani, has offered him three ports on the Gulf to break the isolation so Qatar can continue trading with the rest of the world. Erdogan’s Turkey, another imperialist lynchpin in the area, which aims to replace Saudi Arabia for hegemony within the Sunni world and to support its own role as an energy-distributing hub, has promised to send military contingents to defend the Emir if necessary.
For Egypt, the anti-Qatar Coalition has essentially two aspects. First, in the form of revenge by the current Sisi government, who did not welcome the support of the Muslim Brotherhood members provided by Doha in recent events during the civil war (state coup) of 2014. The second aspect concerns Egypt’s attempt to resume a prominent role in the Middle East and North Africa, at a time when the internal and external significance of the serious economic and social crisis marked by the ‘Arab Spring’ is being re-defined. The most obvious example is the Libyan one where Egypt supports one of the factions, that of General Haftar, against the government of Tripoli recognised by the Western powers. General Haftar, in turn receives political, diplomatic, and probably even military support from Russia. 1
As for the USA, President Trump – who is behind the anti-Qatar/pro-Saudi Arabia move – has his finger in every pie. In addition to Syria, where US commitment appears to be growing in order to prevent Russia and Iran having a free rein in the fake fight against Isis. (Since the real goal is not to undermine the "black caliphate” but to counter Russian imperialism in the Mediterranean on both the Syrian and Libyan shores), Trump is also committed to the anti-Iran front, so Qatar’s overtures to the Ayatollah republic are not appreciated. Similarly, Al-Thani’s investments of tens of millions of dollars in Europe and Germany in particular are regarded as one of the primary reasons for the $500 billion dollar hole in the US foreign balance of payments. But the campaign against Qatar must take into account the not-so-small fact that the Al-Udeid airport is the largest US military base in the Middle East. It is no coincidence that Trump, after initiating Doha’s ostracism, had to partially step back by opening up a dialogue aimed at softening the tone and consequences of isolating Qatar. At the same time Europe, especially Germany, did not approve of the move against Qatar, leading Merkel to define the US as "no longer reliable" under the management of the new President. This is only a partial step back since all the previous interests continue to make their weight felt and take precedence in the strategic priorities of American imperialism. Nobody should be deceived by the "iconoclastic fury" of Trump who, impeachment permitting, is trying to destroy Obama's diplomatic successes. (Paris climate agreement, detente with Cuba, resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, which have all been cancelled.) It is as if his main purpose was to compete with his predecessor. Trump is giving substance to the "America first" slogan. He does it in his own way and in the belief that it is too soon to pronounce Washington’s role in the world as a "post-crisis" one. The US economic and financial situation is dramatically burdened by a series of debt mountains ranging from the federal one ($20,000 billion) to a $500 billion balance of payments deficit. Overall, when the federal states, household and business debts are included, the deficit comes to 350% of GDP, which makes the United States one of the most indebted countries in the world. With its industrial apparatus crumbling and a growing mass of speculative capital which could burst at any moment in a repeat of the devastating experience of the "sub-prime" crisis. It is a bloodsucking imperialism which only survives through the domination of the dollar and the weapons which defend it. Thus Trump's moves, rough and contradictory though they appear, are just another attempt to strengthen an empire which otherwise would have even more difficulty playing its hegemonic role in the world.
So if Trump's frenzied wrath appears to have been triggered by the spat between Riyadh and Doha, over statements allegedly made at the time of Qatar Emir's Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the real reasons are elsewhere. Qatar’s official news agency, QNA, has published some of the Sheikh's statements which underline the excessive and growing opposition to the anti-Tehran policy. In these so-called Al-Thani declarations he expresses support and solidarity with Iran, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, under the assumption that Trump is so politically incapable that he will not last long in the White House. In fact, however, the USA’s 360 degree turn-round in its imperialist position is the consequence of the new direction of conflict against everything and everyone, Tehran and Moscow included. In this context the "Qatar affair" is only one small link in a long chain.
As for Russian imperialism, while it continues “its” war in Syria and intensifies support for General Haftar in Libya, including diplomatic backing to Egypt, the official "sponsor" of the general in Tobruk, it seems to be disinterested for the time being in the "Qatar" issue, even though it has not hidden its sympathy for the Doha regime which is positioning itself against the “pax Saudi Arabiana” and the US-related front. Nevertheless Putin is weaving together energy, economic, financial and even prospective military links with former Soviet republics. An Energy Expo in Astana on June 8/9th this year Russia and China – with the support of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and external adhesion of India and Pakistan – laid the foundations for a sort of Asian common market based on cooperation between oil and gas nations (Russia and Kazakhstan) that could oppose OPEC. The Chinese idea of building a "new silk road", or rather a commercial route from Beijing to Europe by invading it with goods from former Soviet Republics marked "made in China" was also endorsed. Not least, following Washington's securing of a naval monopoly in the Indian Ocean, they also agreed on an undeclared objective of forming a sort of "military alliance" to block US access to strategic points on the Asian continent's chess board (use of airports, bases for ground troops or the presence of military technicians). Beyond this, the Expo also aims to widen the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which Belarus and Afghanistan are also founding members) to include Pakistan and India, while Iran has stated that it will also apply to become a member.
In fact, we are witnessing the formation of a front which is certainly not homogeneous – because economic and strategic interests are rarely unique and don’t always coincide – but which is tactically significant on the international scene, given its ability to oppose the Western line-up headed by the USA, and to a lesser extent by Western Europe, Japan and Australia. Disturbing scenes, because this is not only about control over the marketing routes for "black gold", or competition for control over international markets, nor even the struggle over currency markets. Above all, this is an attempt to get out of the economic and social disaster produced by the last crisis. Escalating military tensions on one side then the other, the many wars already being fought, the growing number of political and diplomatic crises of which Qatar is just a small example, do not augur well. The recent "incident" whereby a Syrian fighter was downed by America in the skies of Syria speaks volumes about the true meaning of these wars and tensions. Now IS is more or less reduced to nothing and its end is imminent, so the real reasons for the war and the real faces of the actors are emerging more clearly.
Capitalism can only overcome its increasingly deep crisis by the destruction of capital values and reducing the territory under control of its opponent, and wars (increasingly generalised) are the most effective instrument. What we need is war on war: Class war against the wars that the bourgeois class is preparing as a solution to its problem of economic and political survival.
19 June 2017
- 1 See http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2016-04-16/the-libyan-tragedy-is-not-over for more on this.