These days, America has
more trouble with its allies than its enemies.
Consider the strange
case of Turkey and Qatar, two putative American allies. Both nations host
essential U.S. air bases while supporting Islamist political parties,
increasingly cooperating with Iran, America's most determined enemy in the
region, and actively subverting U.S. policy in the region.
Questions began with
the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an American-born Christian pastor who has lived in
Turkey for 23 years without incident. Then, on October 7, 2016
Brunson and his wife Norine were seized as alleged coup plotters. Norine was released after being held for 13 days, without any charges
being filed. Andrew Brunson has remained in detention since 2016 and the
charges, when they finally appeared, were numerous and impossible to believe. Example: Brunson is a part of Mormon-inspired CIA plot to
topple Turkey's elected government. (Brunson is not Mormon and has no known CIA
connections.) If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
Turkey revealed its
true intentions when it offered to exchange Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish Islamic cleric who
lives in Pennsylvania. The Turkish government believes that Gülen and his
alleged "Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization" are behind the July
2016 alleged attempted "coup" against the Turkish government.
Dissidents maintain that the "coup" was manufactured to give the
elected Islamist government cover to purge pro-secular senior military officers,
opposition politicians and critical journalists. For more than a decade, Turkish
politics has been roiled by a debate about undoing many of secular traditions
and laws enacted at the founding of modern Turkey in the 1920s, but now moving
toward a more Islamic model that is friendlier to Iran's Islamic dictatorship
and less so toward the US and the EU. Brunson apparently became a pawn in a
larger chess game.
Enter President Donald
J. Trump, who has publicly called for Brunson's release while privately rejecting the
idea of turning over Gülen, a legal U.S. resident, to a foreign court system
unlikely to give him a fair trial in a charged political environment. Next,
Trump piled on economic sanctions to try to spring the jailed American pastor.
Those sanctions have gravely wounded Turkey's weakening economy, but not weakened its resolve. Turkey's
currency registered a 40% drop against the U.S. dollar this year. Foreign direct
investment into Turkey has also slowed significantly this year. Still, its government has
stayed the course and refused to free Brunson. Indeed, it upped the ante:
Turkey's leader called on his followers to boycott iPhones and other iconic American products.
Remember, Turkey is a
NATO ally of the United States and the second-largest contributor of troops to
that vital alliance. It is also home to key U.S. air bases, including Incirlik,
a massive complex near Adana housing some 5,000 US airmen.
As U.S. sanctions
tightened, another U.S. ally, Qatar, intervened. Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin
Hamad Al Thani pledged to invest $15 billion in the Turkish economy
during a recent visit -- and plainly declared that the point of the investment
was to blunt the force of U.S. sanctions. With friends like these...
It is worth taking a
closer look at America's putative ally, Qatar. It is also home to a major US air
base at Al Udeid, from which American warplanes bomb the Taliban, ISIS
and elements of Al Qaeda.
Yet Qatar funds some of
the same groups that America bombs. The gas-rich peninsula channels money to Al
Nusra, a Syria-based affiliate of al Qaeda. It had funded Taliban leaders in the
run-up to the September 11 attacks and, just a few years ago, reportedly paid
some $1 billion to Iran-backed terrorists to ransom captives held in Iraq and
Qatar funds still other
groups that kills Americans. Qatar's emir has publicly and proudly announced his
financial support for Hamas, which has been officially designated as a
"terrorist organization" by the U.S. and the E.U. and Israel. Also,
let us not forget the hundreds of millions of dollars that Qatar gives to the
Muslim Brotherhood, which is the gateway organization for almost every Sunni
jihadi terrorist band in the Middle East. Al Qaeda's current leader, Dr. Ayman
al Zawahiri, began his extremist journey in a Brotherhood chapter in Egypt, as
did September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in its Kuwait branch. The
onetime head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was indoctrinated in the
Brotherhood's Jordan offshoot.
The emir has also
welcomed Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual guide, to live in
Qatar, as well as various senior Hamas officials.
Al Jazeera, Qatar's
state-run broadcaster, frequently lionizes these groups, giving them air time to
legitimize their murderous views toward Israel and America as well as their Arab
Add to that, Qatar's
alleged hacking of U.S. citizens (including former Republican
National Committee finance chairman Elliott Broidy) and distributing their
private emails to journalists, according to U.S. court filings.
In addition, Qatar's funding of lobbyists (at some $100,000 per month) who are close to the current chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and that committee's ranking Democrat.
Senator Ted Cruz's
former deputy chief of staff, Nick Muzin, pulled down $300,000 per month from
Qatar, according to Reuters.
Finally, Qatar has
drawn close to America's biggest regional rival, Iran. It shares the vast
offshore Pars gas field with the Islamic Republic — providing a river of money
to the very nation that America suspects of building nuclear weapons and the
long-range missiles to carry them to U.S. bases in the Middle East and Europe.
US Representative Ted
Budd, a member of the Financial Services Committee and its Terrorism and Illicit
Finance Subcommittee, in an essential article, states:
support of the Hezbollah terrorist organization with both financial and
political assistance, as well as weapons and tactical training, deserves close
examination. Western diplomats and Lebanese analysts estimate that Iranian
financial support for Hezbollah averages around $100 million each year,
sometimes reaching amounts closer to a quarter of a billion dollars...All of
these activities pose a direct threat to U.S. security interests, contribute to
the prolonging of conflicts across the Middle East, and pose threats to our key
allies in the region."
Taken together, the
pattern is clear. Far from faithfully supporting current U.S. policy, Qatar is
using every means at its disposal to subvert or alter it. Its slap-in-face
funding of Turkey, while a US citizen is held captive there, is simply the
latest example of the behavior of Qatar, supposedly a US ally.
Strangely, the Trump
Administration seems to be of two minds about Qatar. Treasury Secretary Steve
Mnuchin has spoken positively about Qatar's counter-terrorism efforts
while the State Department has soft-pedaled Qatar's
outrages. President Trump himself has not been consistent in his public
statements about Qatar. According to an April 18, 2018 article in the New York Times:
who last year denounced the Persian Gulf state of Qatar as a "funder of
terrorism" and backed its rivals in a contentious regional feud, welcomed
its monarch to the Oval Office on Tuesday and portrayed him as a partner in the
fight against extremists.
visit represented a remarkable turnaround for a president who had once portrayed
Qatar as part of the problem."
Ultimately, the Trump
Administration will have to decide which set of its allies to back: Saudi
Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf Arab states, or Qatar and Turkey, each of which have cozied up to Iran. The way forward begins with a simple
question: Which set of allies actually supports America and its objectives in
the Middle East? Why not consider expanding the US deployment at Al-Dhafra airbase in the United Arab
Emirates as a replacement for the airbases used by the US in Qatar and Turkey,
if the UAE accept the idea?
US deployment at Al-Dhafra airbase in the United Arab Emirates could be
considered as a replacement for the airbases used by the US in Qatar and
Turkey. Pictured: A U.S. Air Force Memorial Day ceremony at Al Dhafra
Airbase, May 28, 2018. (Image source: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Erica
Resetting the alliance
with Qatar will not be easy or cost-free. America maintains a large presence in
the Al Udeid military base in Qatar, and Qatari investments in
the U.S. economy are measured in billions. Hard choices lie ahead.
The cost of doing
nothing, however, is even greater. If one nation is able to defy or undermine
U.S. policy while still pocketing the benefits of America's friendship, many
others may follow Qatar's example. Why should other Arab nations endure domestic
criticism for supporting America's war on terror if they can subvert America but
still enjoy America's military protection and their access to the world's
largest market? What is a US ally if lip service will do the trick?