Is Qatar A Friend Or Foe?

I was born under a lucky star!

I had a wonderful opportunity to attend the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar as part of an official United States delegation. The FIFA World Cup is the Ursa Major of international athletic extravaganzas worthy of the cinematic genius of Cecil B. DeMille.

Despite the formidable logistics challenges, Qatar has harmonized the multiple moving parts in hosting the tournament with the proficiency of Arturo Toscanini conducting an orchestra.

I was privileged to enjoy considerable face time with the United States ambassador to Qatar, Timmy T. Davis, and the Qatar ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Sheikh Meshal Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Both are diplomats par excellence: engaging, informative, candid, undisputatious, debonair and unfailingly courteous. They refute the cynical British definition of an ambassador: “An honest man sent to lie abroad for the commonwealth.”

If Oscars were given in international affairs, Qatar would win an award for best supporting actor to the United States in the Arabian Gulf.

President Joe Biden designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally of the United States March 10, a designation richly deserved.

Qatar hosts the largest United States military base in the Middle East. The Al Udeid Air Base in west Doha is home to the headquarters of United States Central Command and United State Air Force Central Command. The national security significance of the base cannot be overstated.

Yemen is a failed nation convulsed by civil war and sanctuary for the terrorist Houthis, a proxy of Iran’s radical Shiite Ayatollahs. Iran — a state sponsor of terrorism — resists renouncing its destabilizing nuclear ambitions. It has become a menacing regional hegemon asserting controlling military and political influence over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The Arabian Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz, is indispensable to the international oil market and United States prosperity. Indeed, President Jimmy Carter in his 1980 State of the Union warned: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Unlike some of its neighbors, Qatar has not been a fair-weather friend. It was a first responder in assisting the United States’ evacuation of tens of thousands from Afghanistan after the 2021 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. Qatar served as a major gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of the country — nearly 50% of the total evacuated by U.S.-led forces. It conducted rescue missions on its own with a few hundred troops and military aircraft.

On Nov. 12, 2021, Qatar agreed to serve as the United States “protecting power” in Afghanistan to a regime not recognized by Biden.

Qatar abandoned OPEC to focus on natural gas. “Qatar will not rejoin OPEC because trying to sway global oil prices doesn’t fit with its strategy,” Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi explained.

Qatar features Al Jazeera Network, a journalist gem in a region notorious for censorship and the murder or torture of dissenters. Al Jazeera has won a cavalcade of coveted awards.

Al Jazeera English, for example, was named Broadcaster of the Year at the 2022 New York Festivals TV & Film Awards for the sixth consecutive year. It rivals the BBC in worldwide audiences with an estimated 50 million viewers.

Al Jazeera is the nightmare of the many Middle East dictators. Its journalists have been detained for long years in Egypt for honest reporting. Tunisia has closed Al Jazeera’s broadcast offices.

Qatar and the United States enjoy a religious affinity. We are both people of the Book who believe in God. Christian churches and synagogues are permitted in Doha.

Qatar opposes radical Islam. It is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and all the Defeat-ISIS working groups. It maintains an interagency National Counterterrorism Committee with representatives from more than 10 government agencies. The NCTC formulates Qatar’s CT policy, ensuring interagency coordination, fulfilling Qatar’s CT-related obligations under international conventions and participating in multilateral conferences on terrorism. Qatar restricts the overseas activities of Qatari charities, requiring all such activity to be conducted through one of four approved charities — to prevent the hijacking of charitable giving to advance terrorism.

The media reporting on the 2022 World Cup has fixated on Qatar’s migrant workers and LGBT proselytizing — inflating fleas into elephants. The migrants voluntarily left their home countries for the greener and more welcoming pastures of Qatar. To the extent workers have been cheated or exploited, employment agencies in their home countries are overwhelmingly responsible. The migrants are nine times the number of Qataris, and its humane and responsible migrant employment regulations cannot be perfectly enforced.

But the same is true of highly developed countries like the United States, where laws purporting to protect migrant workers are flouted daily. If the treatment of Qatar’s migrant workers were as shocking as some media reports insinuate, they would stop coming instead of standing in a queue eager for entry.

Qatar’s culture frowns on public displays of LGBT orientations or enthusiasms, as do many nations. FIFA knew that in choosing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. Attendees know in advance that publicly exhibiting LGBT membership risks legal consequences. When in Rome, do as the Romans do is a time-honored courtesy expected of visitors in foreign lands.

The United States would be well advised to anchor its Middle East strategy to Qatar as Achilles relied on Patroclus in the Trojan War.


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