Washington forum debates Qatari foreign policy adventurism
Washington- Qatar’s conflicting foreign policy choices in several areas have drawn the ire of both Doha’s partners within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Trump government, an analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington said during a debate.
Panellists discussing the recent isolation of Qatar spoke of how the small country leveraged both its relatively small population and high GDP to secure a place on the world stage with a limited risk of blowback.
Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a non-resident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, described how both combined to create circumstances in which Qatar’s leaders could afford to take almost whatever foreign position they liked without serious risk of facing organised opposition at home.
In this way, the Qatari government enjoyed conditions in which there was almost no internal conflict between its decision to host both the 2022 World Cup and the US airbase at Al Udeid, while providing a safe zone in which financial and political adventurers could meet with backers of extremist groups with relative impunity.
“The argument is, why would we do that if we’re doing this?” asked Michael Pregent, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. “They’re in a position where they’re being courted and this (behaviour) is being incentivised.”
Alyahya ascribed much of the motivation for Qatar’s actions to what he characterised as its search for relevance on the global political stage.
“We’ve seen Qatar purchase Harrods in the United Kingdom, pumping more than [$52 million] into the real estate market in England alone and much more around Europe,” he said. “You’ve seen Qatar buying 70% of Volkswagen, so the idea of putting Qatar on the map, of making Qatar a known entity internationally has been very much at the foundation of Qatari policymaking.”
For Qatar, that search for relevance carried little or no risk but Doha’s adventurism carried considerable peril for its neighbours, considering the presence of hostile cells in Qatari borders benefiting from Doha’s support.
The Obama administration and much of Western Europe appeared content to accept Qatar’s adventurist foreign policies, including its relations with Iran and support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
With a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016 looking assured, there appeared to be little motivation to change tack but with Donald Trump’s accession to the presidency and his choice of the destination of his first overseas trip — Saudi Arabia — a volte-face in the regional balance of power was predictable.
However, by turning their fire on the diminutive Gulf state, the other GCC countries invited scrutiny of their own policies. “They have to take care of adventurists that support al-Qaeda and [Jabhat Fateh al-Sham] and other groups,” Pregent said.
US policies in the region, Pregent added, remained consistent with the aim of defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda and curbing Iranian influence.
To that end, US Sunni allies within the GCC generally proved helpful but Qatar’s reluctance to fully engage those aims, and not least its reluctance to act against suspected terrorists and its payment of ransom money to Hezbollah affiliates in Iraq, provided the United States with cause for concern.