Nationalist leader Steve Bannon slammed U.S. allies Turkey and Qatar in an interview with Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday.
“Turkey is the biggest danger for us,” Bannon declared.
“No, not even close to Iran,” he continued, waving his hand in dismissal of the popular notion that Iran and North Korea are the greatest threats the United States faces abroad.
“We don’t read well what is going on in Turkey right now, under [Turkish President] Erdogan,” Bannon said. “This is an issue I am going to pursue hard.”
Bannon followed by hammering Qatar, Turkey’s long-time ally and benefactor.
“Qatar is as dangerous as North Korea!” he argued. “People should pay attention to this important situation.”
Bannon’s remarks will no doubt be seen as controversial. The United States has large military presence in both countries, and Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. In addition, they may come as a surprise, given Bannon’s staunch advocacy for de-ratification of the Iran deal.
However, in recent years, both countries have aligned themselves with the rising Muslim Brotherhood movement, to the ire of other regional powers, such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and more recently, Saudi Arabia, which has taken a more strongly anti-Brotherhood stance within the last year following the rise of the the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who now serves as de-facto leader of the country.
Furthermore, both countries have backed the Islamist militant group Hamas in the Palestinian territories, anti-government organizations in Egypt, and the Brotherhood-aligned ‘Dawn’ militias in Libya. Qatar also reportedly maintains covert ties to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Somalia. Turkey has also taken a belligerent approach towards Europe, threatening to flood the continent with thousands of Islamic migrants.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, they tend to take a less sectarian and more pan-Islamist approach to regional relations, maintaining cordial ties to the Iranians and their Shi’ite proxies in Lebanon and Iraq, despite strong disagreement over the Syrian conflict. All of these factors have contributed to rising tensions with Saudi Arabia and its allies, culminating in the diplomatic isolation of Qatar that started in June.
“I credit Donald Trump on the measures taken against Qatar by the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” Bannon said. “The boycott happened shortly after [Trump’s] visit to Saudi Arabia, just like that.”
Bannon’s remarks echo what he said earlier in the week on a panel at the Hudson Institute. He praised Mohammed bin Salman for having “1,000 clerics rounded up or put under house arrest”, and described the blockade of Qatar as a “well-thought-out plan” in order to achieve a “100 percent cutoff of radical Islamic terrorism”.
However, despite Bannon’s comments, Saudi Arabia has also come under criticism for its sponsorship of jihadist elements, particularly in Syria. Whether the kingdom’s reputation will change under Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership remains to be seen.
During the rest of the Asharq interview, Bannon criticized Europe for “not [making] any attempt to defend itself”, and generally called for a more restrained foreign policy, stating that “we are going to start acting like adults” under President Trump. He also emphasized his friendship with Brexit leader Nigel Farage, and revealed that he had turned down an offer by Mark Cuban to run a future presidential campaign. He then went on to describe his vision for the 2018 mid-term elections, and criticize “globalists” within the administration, such as Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and in particular, H.R. McMaster, who Bannon dubbed “[his] enemy”.
“Even if someone kills me, this revolution has already started,” Bannon, who now fears for his life, ominously concluded. “Nobody can kill it. Others will carry on.”