Creating an ‘Arab Nato’? Here’s a Better Idea for Trump

(The Bloomberg View) -- The White House has indicated President Trump will convene leaders of the Gulf Arab countries for a mid-October summit in Washington, to encourage them to collaborate and stiffen their resolve in the escalating struggle with Iran. That’s a good idea, and overdue.

Encouraging cooperation is one thing, but leading a formal Arab coalition is quite another. U.S. officials talk of creating an “Arab NATO.” This would attach American power and prestige to a project with little chance of success. U.S. interests and the fight against Iran will be best served if Trump achieves a more modest goal — persuading the Arab states to stop fighting each other.

Iran has many ways of making mischief, from cyber-attacks to the use of proxy militias. To contain these threats, the U.S. needs allies to coordinate their efforts. For best effect, the circle ought to be widened to include Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and NATO. (It’s probably too much to ask that Israel be invited, although it will carry a large share of the burden in containing Iran’s regional ambitions.)

To better align Arab states against Iran, Trump should more firmly oppose the embargo that Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain have imposed on Qatar. This year-old internecine squabble has greatly benefited Iran by deflecting Arab energies and deepening the bond between Doha and Tehran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already communicated America’s lack of patience with the feud, to no apparent effect. Trump should insist on an end to it.

He should also urge a speedy resolution to the much bloodier inter-Arab conflict in Yemen. The civil war has already claimed over 10,000 lives and threatens one of the gravest humanitarian disasters in decades.

The embargo of Qatar and the war in Yemen highlight two unfortunate truths. First, the Gulf states have many unresolved quarrels. Second, their fighting forces aren’t of much use. In Yemen, a ragtag militia, with limited support from Iran, has held off the vastly better-resourced coalition for over four years. The Gulf’s militaries were designed primarily to protect their regimes from civilian unrest. They’d be little help in a conflict with a foe such as Iran.

The Arab states have other weapons — economic tools and intelligence assets, to name two. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were able to command these in the war against terror groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State without requiring a formal, institutionalized alliance. That’s the more promising approach. If Trump can get the Arab states to stop using those weapons against each other, so much the better.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

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