Why Does the US Support Qatar—a Major Sponsor of Terrorism?

 In Counterterrorism


Article by Michele Rigby Assad and Joseph Assad

The U.S. government over the years has buried its head in the sand when it comes to our relationship with Qatar. We sure didn’t give Saudi Arabia or the UAE a pass when it comes to terror finance (nor should we). But why do we hold onto the notion that Qatar is a good friend when it’s a state sponsor of terrorism? Qatar has played both sides for so long it’s become normal to us.

What is Qatar?

Most Americans don’t have much knowledge about this tiny country situated in the corner of the Arabian Peninsula. But if you stick with me to the end of this article, you’ll know everything you need to know about the tiny kingdom.

Qatar is about the size of Connecticut. The country is home to 2.6 million people, but only 313,000 are Qatari citizens–that’s less than the population of Tampa, Florida. The rest are foreign workers who live in the country on temporary work visas. With the world’s 3rd largest natural gas and oil reserves, Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world. It is small, but economically it packs a powerful punch.

What’s so bad about Qatar?

Qatar is an equal opportunity terrorism supporter, which means that they support both Sunni and Shi’a terrorists. No other country is this prolific in its support to violent movements around the world. The Washington Institute provided a good explanation for Qatar’s motives: “Qatar’s security strategy has been to provide support to a wide range of regional and international groups in order to bolster its position at home and abroad.” I would add that in addition to its motivation for power and influence is a religious/spiritual motivation.

The following is a list of groups that Qatar supports with money, weapons, and other material support:

  • ISIS (in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere in the world)
  • Numerous terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq who hold the same ideology as ISIS but are smaller in size
  • Al-Qa’ida
  • Houthis in Yemen (Shi’a militants)
  • Hamas
  • The Taliban (in Afghanistan–Also the Taliban was permitted to set up an official office in Doha)
  • The Muslim Brotherhood (worldwide)
  • Iranian militias (Shi’a)

This week, there was an unprecedented diplomatic break between several Arab/Muslim States and Qatar.

This included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE, Libya, Yemen, Mauritania, Mauritius, Maldives, and reduced diplomatic representation in Jordan. Why? These countries are fed up with Qatar’s meddling in the region. They have been dealing with the implications of Qatar’s terrorism support in their own counter-terrorism efforts. They have been telling the US government how duplicitous Qatar’s dealings have been while we continue to treat Qatar like a good and solid friend.

This massive diplomatic shift has sent shockwaves through the region. Culturally, Arabs do not like to air their dirty laundry in public. Most Arabs prefer to work out their problems quietly, behind closed doors. They don’t like to use the media as a tool of diplomacy. In meetings, the most important thing a Gulf Arab diplomat or business partner will tell you is at the end of the meeting—as you are beginning to say thank you and good-bye. Their entreaties are quiet, delicate, and can be missed if you’re not paying attention. That’s why this week’s events are off-the-chart shocking—These countries are THAT fed up and THAT desperate to be heard.

The initial US response was seriously lacking.

On June 4 U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to the break in relations saying,

“…we certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences. And if there’s any role that we can play, in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) remains unified. I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, in the unified–repeat unified–fight against terrorism in the region or globally.”

When we read that we almost fell out of our chairs. Address their differences? This isn’t about political differences, sir, it’s about radical ideologies and terrorism. Somehow Secretary Tillerson didn’t get the memo when he downplayed the “rift” between the Arab countries making it sound like our Middle Eastern allies were children on a playground that just needed to get along.

However, we were encouraged by statements from President Trump today (June 6) that seemed to suggest that he’s aware of what’s going on:

“During my recent trip to the ME I stated that there can no longer be funding of radical ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.”

Why is this situation tricky for the United States?

The US has a strategic military base in Qatar, U.S. Central Command’s Al-Udeid Air Base. It is a big deal to shut down or relocate a military base. It’s probably the last thing we want to do, but that airbase keeps our criticism in check and provides Qatar with “top cover,” i.e. political protection.

Another reason that we’ve been unwilling to censure Qatar is because it has provided funding to a variety of key politicians in the United States, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who received $1 million via the Clinton Foundation.

Also, in September 2013, the wife of the former Amir of Qatar Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, was presented with an award by former President George H. W. Bush for her work promoting education and social reform. What was not mentioned was the degree to which she is one of the driving forces behind Qatar’s radical initiatives.

What do the other countries have to say about Qatar?

Many Arab States don’t trust Qatar at all. They don’t trust Qatar’s extremely close relationship with Iran or its relationship with (and funding for) a bevy of terrorist groups. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and the UAE won’t even share intelligence with Qatar because it swiftly leaks the data to Iran and shares counterterrorism leads with the terrorists we are trying to work against. Qatar is a double agent.

And it’s not just the U.S. that has a complicated relationship with Qatar. The London Telegraph explained the extent to which the UK has benefitted financially from Qatar in September 2014:

“So it is that Qatar buys London property while working against British interests in Libya and arming friends of the jihadists who tried to kill one of our ambassadors. A state that partly owns 1 Hyde Park, London’s most expensive apartment block, and the Shard, the city’s tallest building, is working with people who would gladly destroy Western society.” They added, “Qatari investors own more property in the capital than the Mayor of London’s office and three times more than the Queen.”

It’s time for us to draw a line in the sand with Qatar. If Qatar’s funding and weapons are cut off from these terrorists, we will see a significant decrease in ISIS and other terrorists’ capabilities. We cannot let Qatar continue to foment instability and radicalism in the Middle East, Europe, or America.

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    Daniel Newbold

    After almost 2 years at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, my answer to the question (before reading the blog), was…drum roll….Al Udeid AB. 😉 Great blog, Michele!

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