Qatar has officially decided to escalate, after leaking then rejecting the 13-point demands put forth by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.
Contrary to what is being trumpeted by Qatari media, the demands were neither painful nor exaggerated, ranging from shutting down Al Jazeera to cutting off relations with Iran — two main points that certainly do not infringe on Qatar’s sovereignty.
Had Qatar responded positively it could have spared the Gulf, and itself, a forthcoming period of tension, uncertainty and turmoil. The question on everybody’s mind, however, is how the four allies will now respond to Qatar’s Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. On social media, some westerners are predicting military intervention by Saudi Arabia, which is far-fetched. A country that vehemently worked against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait back in 1990 will not invade and occupy another Arab country. The Trump Administration believes that the crisis “could potentially drag on for weeks. It could (also) drag on for months. It could possibly even intensify”. That is true, depending on how the international community reacts to Qatar.
The list of options is long, ranging from withdrawing the honours of hosting the Fifa World Cup in 2022, onto passing a binding UN resolution against the country.
Qatari officials linked to notorious figures in the global terror network can be sanctioned, and Al Jazeera can be knocked off the airwaves.
The Qatar-backed crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood can be brought before the International Court of Justice, and an international warrant can be issued for the arrest of figures such as Yousuf Al Qaradawi.
One bad option, however, is to stand by and do nothing, while keeping the crisis within the narrow framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Judging by Qatar’s behaviour, Gulf pressure is not enough to make Shaikh Tamim abide by good neighbourly conduct. The crisis needs to be taken to a different level, and that needs to happen quickly.
Appeasing Shaikh Tamim with a new set of much milder and vaguer demands is also a bad idea. This would send a completely wrong message; that support of terrorism pays — and pays well.
If history teaches us anything, it is that vague language often leads to massive mishap, and appeasement only increases the appetite of autocrats and despots.
Some are comparing Shaikh Tamim’s behaviour with that of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussain, when he decided to march on Kuwait and received vague pledges of non-intervention by the US ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie.
This is not true, because the four states have been crystal clear with Qatar for years, making a point that these demands are a bare minimum for rapprochement and that this was not a bazaar auction that was up for under-the-table deals and compromise.
Appeasement is usually pursued to avoid conflict in international relations, like back in September 1931 when Japan invaded northeast China, despite warnings from the US and the League of Nations. Realising that they were unwilling to put their threats into action, the Japanese resigned from the League and marched on the rest of Manchuria, making the international community look silly and helpless at halting aggression.
Then came the famed Munich Pact of September 1938, when Great Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain allowed Nazi Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia, believing that he had “secured peace for our time”.
Instead of satisfying Hitler’s appetite, the policy quickly back-fired, increasing Germany’s territorial ambitions. One year after Munich, Hitler invaded Poland, officially igniting the Second World War.
Turning a blind eye
If Shaikh Tamim is appeased today, either by turning a blind eye to his policies or crossing off some of the 13 demands, he would be brought to believe that he had outsmarted the entire GCC, and would only cuddle up further with terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
History is riddled with examples of leaders who failed to read history properly. Jamal Abdul Nasser is one of them, when he failed to realise that there were limits to how far the Soviet Union would support him in a new confrontation with Israel. He closed the Straits of Tiran and withdrew the UN from the borders, triggering the war of 1967 which cost him Sinai and led to the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Saddam also miscalculated, never imagining that the US was going to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003. Two weeks before the invasion, he could have averted a disaster by listening to the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who called on him to step down and disappear into dignified exile — but Saddam was too arrogant to accept.
Shaikh Tamim needs to read that history all over again, with fresh insight. He needs to take a long hard look at his country and four-year rule, asking the question: “Do I want to go down in history as a nation-maker, or to become another Saddam Hussain and Adolph Hitler?”
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.