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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trump's conflicts of interest skew Middle East policy

By Tim Abel

Image result for Trump and Middle EastDonald Trump is no stranger to doing business in the Middle East, yet for some unknown reason, he could never quite crack the Qatar market.

Sure, he had been dealing in the hotel business with the Saudis for at least two decades and has his name on quite a few golf courses in the UAE.

However, no matter how hard he tried, business deals in Qatar always seemed unattainable for him.

Now a feud between these three Gulf nations broke out on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Arab allies all broke off trade, travel and diplomatic relations with Qatar as punishment for what they said was its support of terrorism.

Many scholars, however, believe that the fallout is the result of a struggle for power and autonomy.

It didn’t take long for Trump to throw his support behind the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the dispute. They are the two countries out of the three where he has business interests. 

Trump said his reason for backing Saudi Arabia and the UAE is that Qatar is a “funder of terror at a very high level,” but was this his only reason?

Image result for Trump and Middle East
The Pentagon and the State Department have a different opinion on the issue to the alleged president, with the secretaries of defense and state trying to encourage unity against a common enemy in ISIS by staying completely neutral on the topic of Qatar.

Unlike Donald Trump, the Pentagon and the State Department don’t have personal assets in the area.

That’s right, Trump is the first U.S. president in 40 years to maintain private business interests after entering the White House and many critics believe maintaining a business empire will skew the president’s ability to make rational diplomatic decisions that truly are for the good of the people. 

Trump may have signed his business empire over to his sons at a press conference in January, but as the Director of the Office of Government Ethics warned, stepping away from management without giving up ownership does not diminish his financial incentives or conflicts

“Other countries in the Middle East see what is happening and may think, ‘We should be opening golf courses’ or ‘We should be buying rooms at the Trump International,’” said Brian Egan, a State Department legal adviser under the Obama administration. 

“Even if there is no nefarious intent on behalf of the president or the Trumps, for a president to be making money from business holdings in sensitive places around the world is likely to have an impact.”

When the trouble between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar kicked off, Dana Smith, the American Ambassador to Qatar, retweeted a Treasury Department article praising Qatar for cracking down on extremist financing, which you can read HERE.

Image may contain: 4 people, textNot long after Smith’s tweet, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Qatar “to be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors,” while also adding, “We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.”

Then there’s Trump’s response.

He was completely in favor of the blockade the second it started, declaring on Twitter that his visit “was already paying off.”

He continued to defend it even after Tillerson had called for it to be eased, saying that “The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding” of terrorism.

Remember, this is the man who said of the Saudis back in 2015 that he likes them because they buy apartments from him. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

It’s not just the purchasing of apartments that Trump has to thank Saudi Arabia for.

In 1995, Donald Trump sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership consisting of a Saudi prince, the same prince that paid $18 million for Trump’s yacht in 1991 and a Singaporean investor. This $325 million deal on the Plaza enabled Trump to escape a default on his loans.

So next time you hear Trump weigh in on the Middle East, ask yourself if he is thinking of the safety of the American people or his own back pocket.

Author Tim Abel is a former English teacher from Australia who currently lives in Singapore and spends a lot of time traveling the world for his wife's work. Besides covering political news for Addicting Info, he also writes his own blog,