Riyadh (AHT) – There appears to be no more quixotic endeavor these days than the pursuit of a lasting peace in the Middle East. A likely reason is that peace is not profitable to the forces now hard at work in the region.
Enter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, under whose stewardship ExxonMobil operated with the confidence and clout of a minor sovereign nation. Now, as head of Donald Trump’s State Department, Tillerson has inherited a number of the “problems” which resulted in ExxonMobil’s record-breaking profits between 2006 and 2016.
Secretary Tillerson has been making the rounds in the Middle East lately. His latest travels took him to Saudi Arabia — a country which only saw fit a few weeks ago, as of this writing, to allow its female citizens to sit behind the wheel of automobiles, but whose GDP was nearly $350 billion in 2016.
America has always chosen strange bedfellows and practiced extremely selective moral outrage across the globe. Tillerson’s ascension to the office of Secretary of State confirms there will be no perceptible changes to how America operates in the Middle East. To date, that playbook has consisted mostly of isolating and sanctioning-into-nothingness the small nations which sit atop mineral wealth. It’s why we cannot now “abandon” Afghanistan even long after our presence there has done any measurable good in democracy’s name.
Iran is home to nearly 160 billion barrels’ worth of “proven” reserves of crude oil. This is why Iran remained Tillerson’s apparent singular focus as he toured Saudi Arabia.
Old Fights and Smokescreens
Tillerson’s visit was a part of the first-ever meeting of something called the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Committee. The Saudis have been regional rivals with Iraq for a while now and the committee was formed in the hopes of strengthening ties.
America’s Secretary of State arrived with something of a fatalistic opinion of the whole thing: “I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon,” said Tillerson of the meeting. His tone is unhelpful but not unwarranted — Saudi Arabia can’t be expected to take peace with Iraq seriously when it’s still stirring up trouble elsewhere.
Specifically, Tillerson is talking about the “Gulf Crisis” — or, more specifically, the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis. On May 23, the nation of Qatar apparently suffered a “hack” which allowed unknown actors to post false statements on the country’s official social media and internet platforms. The statements included some falsely attributed to Mohammed bin Abdulrahaman Al Thani, the country’s foreign minister, and apparently committed to the withdrawal of Qatar’s ambassadors and diplomatic presence from the nearby countries.
The response from those countries was swift. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia joined together to blockade the nation of Qatar, which they simultaneously accused of “funding terrorists” in the region. What was already an extremely delicate situation involving competing corporate and religious interests has now broken down to the point where this “Crisis” has its own Wikipedia page.
Tillerson Runs Interference
The presence of Rex Tillerson in Saudi Arabia at this time does not appear to have brought any additional light of reason to the Qatar-Saudi Arabia “situation.” The hackers who compromised Qatar’s media presence and derailed negotiations are still apparently at large. Saudi Arabia and their allies remain committed to the blockade and sanctioning of Qatar.
If Tillerson arrived at the negotiation table already doubtful a resolution could be reached, it casts doubt on his very purpose. Indeed — analysis from Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara confirms Tillerson’s mind is elsewhere: “…especially the containment of Iran … and [he] reckons the Qatar crisis is simply a distraction and counterproductive of the overall policy that the U.S. is seeking in the region.”
And what is that policy again? Its name is “selective outrage.”
To reiterate: Nobody who ratified the Iran “Deal” except Trump’s America is worried about Iran committing suicide by doubling-down on its own nuclear program. And the notion that somebody as patently unstable as Donald Trump should have to re-evaluate the “Deal” every 30 days is virtually unprecedented in modern diplomacy.
And if Tillerson and the rest of Trump’s administration are so worried about nations who “finance terrorism,” then why on earth are we not taking a very hard look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia? The Obama-era State Department sold an unconscionable and unprecedented number of massively destructive weapons to Saudi Arabia up until 2016. In 2017, to hear some tell it, Donald Trump’s State Department concluded an even larger weapons deal. To hear others tell it, all of those deals actually predate the Trump administration.
Fake news or not, Tillerson’s State Department is either holding the line on or actively making worse, a pretty perverse relationship with Saudi Arabia. A lot of folks agree we can’t be sure where most of those weapons are going or believe they’re destined for the frontlines in Yemen — a conflict purportedly exacerbated by the Saudis and which has already claimed the lives of 10,000 souls. Other folks say Saudi Arabia — not Qatar — finances extremism to serve its preferred offshoot of Islam.
As you can see, there’s nothing simple about the state of Middle East peace, or America’s, or Tillerson’s, role in it. Even some of the facts seem to differ between authoritative sources. And that’s the problem: a government that conducts itself like a corporation elevated a man — Tillerson — whose multi-continental corporation conducted itself like a government, to the position of the world’s most visible diplomat and “peacemaker.”
Let us watch as Trump’s and Tillerson’s State Department “make peace.”
This post by Kate Harveston originally ran on American Herald Tribune.
Also published on Medium.