U.S. relations with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf are already complicated. Now, three of them — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, another Sunni Muslim nation — have fallen out with Qatar, the most progressive of the group now that Egypt is under military rule.
The United States has close military relations with all five nations and important bases in four of them. The headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet is in Bahrain, a nation troubled by stormy relations between its Sunni rulers and its Shiite-majority population.
Qatar has taken a relatively progressive and active approach to joining the modern world. For 18 years, it has paid the bills and taken the heat from other Arab states for the television news outlet al-Jazeera, which provides reasonably balanced coverage of events in the Middle East and has expanded its reach to U.S. viewers.
Qatar provided funding and military aid to Libyan rebels who — with U.S., British, and French help — overthrew Moammar Gadhafi, another Sunni dictator, in 2011. What appears to have been the final straw for Qatar’s nervous fellow Sunni rulers was its support of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country. Mr. Morsi was elected in 2012, overthrown the next year in a military coup, and put in jail.
Qatar joined with other Persian Gulf Sunni states in supporting — unsuccessfully — Syrian rebels who sought to oust President Bashar Assad. It has maintained decent ties with Shiite Iran, a country the others fear.
Life will become more difficult for Qatar, now that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have declared the country to have departed from the hallowed way. Life in the Middle East will also become more complicated for the United States, in seeking to maintain its bases.
Washington cannot abandon Qatar, yet it will need to maintain good relations with the other gulf monarchs. Its course will not be easy.