We are all too familiar with the frequently cited cliché that in international relations there are no long-term friendships and enmities, but just conjunctural interests. It is another almost established convention that the alliances and regional alignments in the volatile region of the Middle East, like the rapidly shifting sands of its deserts, are prone to instant changes.
Nevertheless, when the issue at stake is the regional posture of the global power, in the form of the U.S., in the Middle East, even the most ardent observers are having real difficulty, over the recent years, in following up an ever-expanding catalog of double standards.
Some of these have deep historical and strategic roots, while some of them are triggered by the rather unprincipled and inconsistent foreign policy line that the U.S. has adopted following the reversal of the Arab Spring. To illustrate the former, the U.S. state establishment has always supported authoritarian governments in the region since the Cold War for the sake of stability and preserving the national security of Israel; while hailing democracy, freedoms and civil liberties in the abstract.
Consequently, there was no surprise in seeing open or covert U.S. support for various military coups, taking sides in civil wars, or instigating military invasions to "liberate" countries; while concrete attempts at democratization, such as the electoral process in Gaza, were left in the cold. It was also a classical tactic to play the "Islamist" and "Arab nationalist" forces against each other in the Arab world from time to time so that conjunctural deals could be conjured up under American leadership.
More recently, the war in Syria and the overly pragmatic approach adopted by the Obama administration to work with paramilitary groups on the ground further exacerbated the double standards in U.S. foreign policy. To cite just a few, Washington D.C. continued to work with Turkey as a key NATO ally in the region; but determined the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which it recognizes as a terrorist organization, as its main ground force in the war against Daesh.
In addition, it continued to host some of the leading members of the terror groups operating specifically against Turkey, such as the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), in its soil. During President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent official visit to D.C., PKK supporters were allowed to approach his motorcade from close range, and Erdoğan's bodyguards, who were trying to protect the delegation under heavy insults and provocations, were accused of breaching the freedom of expression; even leading to issuing arrest warrants in absentia.
In another bizarre case, the U.S. administration started to relax the sanctions against Iran following the Tehran Agreement to take advantage of the new economic opportunities there; but the Deputy General Manager of Turkey's Halkbank was arrested in the U.S. earlier this year for breaching the now-void U.S. sanctions on Iran.
As expected, the "Trump factor" contributed greatly to the exacerbation of inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy with added divergence among U.S. institutions themselves. In this context, the recent crisis in the Gulf triggered some of most serious American double standards towards Middle Eastern countries, chiefly exemplified by Qatar.
President Trump participated in the historic Arab-Islamic American Summit in Riyadh and soon afterward several countries declared their decision to isolate Qatar diplomatically and economically. The initial reaction by Trump was to support the regional initiative to isolate Qatar on the precept that the country was providing support to "Islamic extremism and terrorism."
However, representing one of the most apparent U.S. double standards in recent years, the Congress then approved the sale of F-15 fighters to the Qatar Emiri Air Force as the country struggled under pressure from its Gulf neighbors.
At the same time, Qatari officials acknowledged that some of the high-ranking officials of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were claimed to motivate militant groups, were residing in their country upon the request of the U.S. administration. In the midst of all these, no one in Washington D.C. was even contemplating about the removal of the strategically critical Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar which hosts a forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and the headquarters of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. On the contrary, there was even an agreement to sell thousands of livestock in order to ease the need for fresh milk in the isolated Qatari market. To the same Qatar that was supposedly a country supporting extremism and terrorism… believe it or not.
These clear double standards not only undermine the credibility of the U.S. as a global power, which could contribute to stability in the region, but also damage the prospects of democratization by triggering widespread disillusionment among Middle Eastern societies.