Trump has already begun his first trip to the Middle East without leaving the White House. This week President Trump met with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhaibi. That meeting was potentially just as important as Trump’s meetings later this month when he travels to Israel and the Saudi Arabia.
Trump is embracing the strongest opponent of his predecessor’s signature accomplishment in the Middle East: The Iran deal.
The UAE, Israel, and Saudi Arabia — Two Muslim majority monarchies and the Jewish state — all opposed the Iran deal. They all are fearful of the Iranian role in the region and worried about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization active throughout the region and funded by Qatar.
Trump and his administration share their concern. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called Iran “the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East” and the United States is happy to have allies in the war in terror. As the Emirati paper Gulf News noted Zayed addressed concerns regarding “Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Shabab, Daesh and other terrorist groups in the region.”
The Zayed meeting is important because the UAE has supported U.S. counter-terrorism in the region. Not just with words and money but with Emirati forces. The Emirati airforce conducted airstrikes against terrorists in Libya and Syria. For maximum propaganda impact one of the fist Emirati combat pilots to bomb ISIS targets inside Syria was a female pilot.
The UAE is part of the Saudi-led campaign against Iranian supported Houthi rebels in Yemen. The rebels have launched thousands of rockets and missiles at Saudi Arabia. Some of these have not only been targeted at towns and oil infrastructure but also the Holy City of Mecca.
Saudi Arabia’s clout in the Muslim world is unique as the home of two of Islam’s holiest sites. The draw of Saudi Arabia is demonstrated by the Saudi King’s ability to convene a major group of Muslim leaders to meet with President Trump during his first trip abroad. Saudi Arabia has also been able to pull together a diverse group of nations.
Airforce one is still thousands of miles from Riyadh but, it’s also clear where the problems lie. While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been working closely to ensure Trump’s trip is a success other allies seem to be playing a more cynical game.
Take Qatar, a nominal U.S. ally which is home to the Al Udeid Airforce base. Last month at the Doha Four Seasons, Qatar allowed Hamas to hold a press-conference. Qatar has yet to designate a single organization a terrorist organization.
Not ISIS, Not Al Qaeda and certainly not the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar is one of the largest state sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood.
U.S. Muslim allies, such as the UAE, realize that President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Zayed’s trip to the United States are expressions of thanks. Allies like the UAE and Saudi Arabia deserve U.S. support in the war on terror much more than do cynical allies like Qatar and Pakistan which express a commitment to fighting terror but, behind closed doors pursue a different policy.
For Trump’s trip to be a success he should remember who America’s allies in the region are.