SO SHOULD AMERICA
By General James Conway, USMC, REAL CLEAR DEFENSE
For too long, Qatar has tried to get away with having its flag planted in two camps. Now, it must get off the fence.
In one camp are those nations, led by the U.S., opposing Islamic extremism and the terrorism it produces. Since 9/11, Qatar has generously supported this effort, allocating over a billion dollars to build two crucial American military facilities – al-Udeid Air Base and Central Command Forward Headquarters – outside Doha. It also spends billions on American military gear, with orders for billions more.
Qatar simultaneously supports radicals within Islam who have vowed a hundred-year fight against the infidels. For years, the U.S. and others largely turned a blind eye to the billions of dollars sent from wealthy Qataris – in league with their supportive government – to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and militants in Syria. Known terrorist leaders and financiers find safe harbor on Qatari soil, which also hosts some of the most radical media outlets in the Arab world.
This Jekyll & Hyde statecraft increasingly isolates Qatar. Many Middle Eastern countries, recognizing their past failures to address radicalization, are cutting off finances for extremist groups and moderating madrassas and mosques. They realize success in this generational struggle permits no stragglers.
Yet Qatar steadfastly refuses to join this struggle, instead, rotating progressively closer to the world’s leading exporter of terrorism: Iran. This has drawn the ire – and now retaliation – of regional powers like Egypt and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In a region where such differences traditionally are settled internally, Doha’s erstwhile partners have turned openly hostile, demanding it stop supporting terrorism and pivot away from Iran.
This crisis hangs the U.S. on the horns of a dilemma. Qatar’s facilities remain important to U.S. military operations in the region: Multiple carrier battle groups would be needed to match the combat power generated 24/7 from al-Udeid. However, Qatar’s sponsorship of terrorism – and the disputes that it creates with our other partners – undermines the larger mission supported by our presence at al-Udeid.
Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson have sought to mitigate the crisis by emphasizing the U.S.-Qatar relationship’s benefits. Certainly, defeating ISIS and containing Iran are facilitated by the power projection coming off the runways of al-Udeid. The growing crises in the Pacific with North Korea, and potentially China, are not well-served by distraction to our focus, or drain of our resources, in the Middle East.
Still, presidential guidance prevails. President Trump last month remarked, “Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level… We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” Indeed, he voiced the position we should have taken all along: The U.S. cannot advocate a policy of destroying ISIS and al-Qaeda, and at the same time find favor with a nation that unapologetically supports both.
So how should the U.S. approach the crisis? First, we should be pliant on the “how ” but firm on the …read more