An article discusses the complicated relationship between the United States and Qatar with reference to the Syria.
He writes that “Qatar emerged after 2011 as arguably the most important external supporter of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. Qatar has spent, according to news reports, over $3 billion on aid to the opposition. Qatar has been among the opposition’s primary suppliers of arms and ammunition and may have the most influence of any external actor with the fractious Syrian opposition. Many allies pose difficulties for the United States in the Syria context, but Qatar has proven the greatest obstacle to forging allied unity on Syria policy. As in Libya, the Qataris have used their influence to frustrate the efforts of the United States and others to foster unity within the Syrian opposition that is the prerequisite for a negotiated solution to the war. According to press reports, Qatar’s actions — its tendency to support multiple Islamist factions, its willingness to engage with Jihadist actors, and its refusal to channel aid solely through the Syrian Military Council (SMC) — have exacerbated the divisions within the opposition and contributed to the opposition’s refusal to negotiate”.
He goes on to argue ” According to Mehran Kamrava of Georgetown University, Qatar seeks the prestige that comes from playing a role on all of the big issues of the day. But, judging from its pattern of activity of the past few years, Qatari activism is also clearly part of a larger Qatari strategy that has been playing out across the Muslim world. As Brian Katulis explains, Qatar sees the Arab Awakening as an opportunity to spread Qatari influencethrough the establishment of Islamist governments that look to Qatar (and not to Saudi Arabia or the United States) for support and guidance. It is this dual interest in promoting influence and ideology that informs Qatari foreign policy from Libya to Palestine. In many places, this strategy has meant fostering a government made up of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) related groups”.
Naturally, this conflicts not just with US interests but its values also. A Middle East dominated by a Qatar backed Muslim Brotherhood, however unlikely is antithical to US interests. If Qatar wants a seat at the table then it should certainly have one, but when this conflicts with Saudi interests America must choose which is the safest long term strategy, however difficult. Things are complicated by the fact that America has military bases in Qatar (the Fifth Fleet) and as such must treat Qatar with the respect it craves.
He continues, saying that there are two reasons why Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood, “First, Qatar thinks that it can exercise greater control over the MB than other political movements. When the emir took power in the mid-1990s, the MB was a client without a Sunni Arab patron. This enabled Qatar to position itself as a unique and indispensable ally of the MB, with all of the leverage that entailed. In contrast, Salafi movements, for instance, have long enjoyed the patronage of Saudi Arabia. Should Qatar choose to back Salafi groups, it would find itself in a competition for influence with its regional rival, undermining Qatar’s control of its client. Second, Qatar probably assesses that the MB is the wave of the futurein the Middle East, a movement that resonates with pluralities — if not majorities– in many Arab countries, despite its recent setback in Egypt. While Qatar may be able to acquire comparable influence over secular and liberal groups, which also badly need external support, the Qatari leadership likely believes these movements would not afford it much influence abroad. The former emir’s record of supporting MB organizations throughout the region (with Qatar, itself, being the notable exception) and the emirate’s long-standing relationship with the influential MB-affiliated cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi have given Qatar an enormous advantage in cultivating alliances with emboldened Islamist groups throughout the Middle East”.
The result of this he says, “This Qatari strategy implies that U.S.-Qatari divides are not simply a difference in tactics, as U.S. officials often assert. Nor is Qatar simply filling a U.S. leadership vacuum. As the Libya example demonstrates, Qatar has the capacity to frustrate U.S. goals even when the United States is deeply engaged. Rather, the superficial similarity in U.S. and Qatari goals masks much deeper and more abiding differences about the two countries’ visions for the Middle East. At times, these visions coincide and allow effective cooperation. But when they don’t, Qatar has proven willing to work actively to frustrate important U.S. policy goals”.
He ends the piece “while Qatar is not necessarily an enemy of the United States, it is certainly not an ally. The usual U.S. government response to such deviationism among partners is to advocate “high-level engagement” to make known U.S. displeasure and to convince the ally of the errors of its ways. But in the Qatari case, engagements at the highest levels on both Libya and Syria (as well as on efforts to get the Qataris to cut off their support to Hamas) have failed to alter Qatari behavior. It is time to recognize this and consider whether the United States needs to reconsider its approach to Qatari activism. The recent leadership transition in Qatar, in which the emir stepped down in favor of his son, might present some new opportunities for the United States to turn Qatar from its present course. But most analysts agree that there is little indication that the new emir would seek to change Qatari foreign policy. In his maiden speech as emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani seemed to be at pains to demonstrate continuity in foreign policy, vowing to follow his father’s “path” and strongly asserting that Qatar would continue its “independent behaviour.” Indeed, Tamim is widely regarded as one of the architects of Qatar’s Libya and Syria policy over the past two years, including his country’s patronage of the MB. The United States should certainly be open to a more cooperative relationship if Tamim agrees to alter the pattern of recent Qatari policy. But it would be imprudent to assume that the new emir will fundamentally change what Qatar views as a successful policy. If the pattern persists, it will be time to accept that U.S.-Qatari differences do not result from failures to communicate. They are differences over goals in Syria and elsewhere. Accordingly, the United States should cease trying to convince the Qataris that their actions are undermining shared goals and accept their objectives in these cases are not the same as those of the United States. Instead, it is a question of changing the cost-benefit calculus that Qatar faces in its Syria policy. This would be very difficult in the case of Qatar because of its wealth, its role in U.S. basing in the Persian Gulf, and its value to the United States on other geopolitical priorities in which U.S. and Qatari interests are more alignedand Qatar is working well with the United States”.