The Emir of Qatar is visiting the White House tomorrow, one of a series of Middle East leaders who are coming to town (next is the King of Jordan).
I am willing to bet that a White House statement is released noting our close relationship, our friendship, Qatar’s hosting of al-Udeid air base, the World Cup, and Qatar’s helpful role in many regional crises.
Such an anodyne or positive statement is predictable and I would not be worried about it if I could be sure the President and his staff know better. If they are being diplomatic in public but tougher-minded in private, that would be easy to defend. If it’s all a love fest in private as well, that’s indefensible.
For one thing, Qatar is no model of human rights, much less democracy. The State Department’s last annual report on the country says this: “The principal human rights problems were the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully, restriction of fundamental civil liberties, and pervasive denial of expatriate workers’ rights. The monarch-appointed government prohibited organized political parties and restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and access to a fair trial for persons held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law.” Human Rights Watch notes that “forced labor and human trafficking are serious problems. The government has failed to address shortcomings in the legal and regulatory framework despite the initiation of many large-scale projects in preparation for Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022.”
The Obama administration has never seemed keen on raising such human rights issues, so let’s turn to realpolitik.
First comes Al-Jazeera’s reporting. The station is not independent: it is owned by the Emir and reflects Qatari foreign policy, for example in the criticism of Israel, the support of the government of Bahrain, the lack of criticism of anything that happens in Qatar at all–and a persistent anti-U.S. coloration. This was at its worst during the Iraq war, when Al-Jazeera’s biased coverage incited and rewarded violence. For example, a BBC report from 2003 stated that “UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed ‘horror’ at the broadcast of pictures believed to show two dead British soldiers. The Commander of the UK forces in the Gulf, Air Marshall Brian Burridge condemned al-Jazeera’s broadcasts as ‘deplorable’ and a ‘flagrant breach’ of the Geneva Convention. He also warned journalists not to become part of the ‘Iraqi propaganda machine.’ Al-Jazeera drew criticism from the US for broadcasting footage of killed and captured American soldiers.”
Water over the dam, perhaps, so let’s turn to more recent Qatari foreign policy.
Qatar’s cash for extremists and terrorists is the main problem. An article in the Economist noted “Al Jazeera’s breathless boosting of Qatari-backed rebel fighters in Libya and Syria, and of the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt….” Who is Qatar backing? In Syria, “the arms shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists,” said the New York Times late last year. The result: “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” the Times quotes an American official.
Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood, including its terrorist Palestinian branch Hamas–and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal now lives in Doha. Qatar has never been generous to the Palestinian Authority; Hamas appears to be the horse it is riding. Last year, the Emir became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took it over in 2007–and while there promised $400 million in aid.
In January I noted in a post entitled “Qatar in Mali: Which Side Are They On?” that the French weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported on Qatari support for the radical Tuareg rebels of the MNLA, Ansar Eddine, AQIM, and Mujao. A report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) states that “Since Qadhafi’s death, some Libyans and regional commentators have criticized what they view as selective Qatari support for militias and political forces, particularly Islamist groups affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change.” This is no small problem because the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change is a new name for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Qatar hosts, and Al-Jazeera broadcasts, Yusef al Qaradawi, a radical cleric whose views (quoting the CRS report) include “the conditional legitimacy of suicide bombing” and who works closely with an organization called “The Union of Good” that in 2008 was designated by the United States as a supporter of terrorism.
It all adds up to a foreign policy very largely at odds with U.S. interests, not only supporting the Muslim Brotherhood but going well beyond that to support terrorist and extremist groups and justifications for terrorism. Whatever is said in public, that should be the real subject of the discussions with the Emir when he visits the White House tomorrow.