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September 15, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 314

How A Lilliputian Emirate Took Two American Presidents Hostage

September 15, 2021 | By Y. Carmon*
Qatar | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 314


The Qatari foreign and defense ministers with their American counterparts (Source: Aljazeera.com)

Anyone witnessing the excessive American deference towards Qatar these days, from the president, to the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense (both of whom reported for duty to the Qatari emir and tried to outdo each other in thanking Qatar) must have reached the conclusion that America was afflicted with a Stockholm syndrome writ large.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken epitomized this obsequiousness in the following words: "What Qatar has done here – for Americans, for Afghans, for citizens of many other countries – will be remembered for a long, long time." [1]

The investigative national media has also fallen over themselves to join the Doha Admiration Society. "From Afghanistan to the World Cup [which, according to some reports was bought and paid for by Qatar], Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Steps Up" reads the headline of a New York Times article.[2] The Washington Post and Reuters followed suit.

The Qatari government-owned TV channels could not do less than the American government and media. They depicted Qatar as an ally of equal standing to the U.S.

An extraterrestrial, purely dependent on Al-Jazeera's coverage, would never know that Qatar is merely an emirate of some hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are foreigners, whose rulers, the Aal-Thani clan, survive only thanks to the American airbase on their soil. This extraterrestrial would also find it hard to understand how an American administration would praise to the skies a regime that gave safe haven to the mastermind of 9/11 Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in the Doha municipal water department, when he was already on the run from American justice for planning other terrorist attacks.

So why does Qatar deserve such profuse thanks? The answer is clear: Qatar saved the U.S. president and his administration from a de facto hostage crisis involving over 125,000 Americans. It persuaded the Taliban to allow the Americans and some of their local helpers to leave the country after the Taliban had conquered it fully in fierce battles in the first half of August 2021. According to Blinken's testimony before the U.S. Congress, the U.S. had to decide between opposing the Taliban conquest or a speedy flight from the country,[3] and Qatar allowed the U.S. a fig leaf of respectability for this flight. Had the Taliban not acquiesced, a de facto hostage crisis involving 125,000 people and a bloody and chaotic urban war in Kabul against the Taliban could have developed. This would have been curtains for the Biden presidency. Given this nightmarish scenario, Qatar is truly entitled to all the plaudits heaped upon it by the administration. Moreover, the saga isn't over since Biden left behind many who are yearning to leave.

This raises the question of the wellsprings of Qatari influence on the Taliban. How did tiny Qatar persuade the Taliban to forego their newly won sovereignty after fighting the U.S. for two decades? Perhaps it was the Qatari emir's eloquence that melted the heart of the Taliban, despite their proven murderous record. Any unbiased observer will discount such a possibility. Everyone knows that what accounts for Qatar's influence all over the world is its money. Then, another question arises: Did Qatar merely promise the Taliban for the first time a future payoff that prompted their agreement, or was it Taliban gratitude to Qatar for years of Qatari subsidies to the Taliban while the Taliban were murdering American troops? The answer to this question is likewise known to all: Qatar has been the stealth pro-Islamist subverter[4] during all of its years of existence. It has steadily bankrolled the Taliban and its leaders. In the last two years, it proved its worth to the Taliban beyond the role of a financial angel. It also proved its ability to deliver the Americans and coax them into abandoning a loyal ally, the democratically elected Afghan government, and selecting in its stead the Taliban as its sole interlocutor in negotiations over Afghanistan's future.

Far more than that: Qatar proved to the Taliban its power and ability to persuade the Americans to twist the arms of their Kabul ally into freeing 5,000 Taliban fighters from government jails. Furthermore, Qatar managed to bamboozle the author of "The Art Of The Deal" into the worst possible deal – an agreement with the Taliban on American withdrawal. The Trump Administration boasted that in the February 29, 2020, Qatar-brokered agreement, the Taliban agreed not to allow its territory to be used by third parties, like Al-Qaeda, to threaten the United States and its allies.[5] But, the Taliban has not severed ties with Al-Qaeda (it was not and is not required to do so) and in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Al-Qaeda is even threatening a repeat performance. A pro-Al-Qaeda magazine wrote that similar attacks are feasible and Muslims should perpetrate them. Given the Qatari spell over the Americans and its proven financial patronage of the Taliban, it was only natural for the Taliban to heed Qatar's advice in their own self-interest.

Qatar was not alone in propping up the Taliban; Pakistan nurtured the Taliban for years and facilitated its resurgence. The chief of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), the real power in Pakistan, personally supervised the final mopping-up operation against the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan with Pakistani drones. The duo of Pakistan and Qatar had a clear division of labor: Qatar supplied the money and Pakistan supplied a rear base, training, equipment and military guidance. Today, both countries have taken the lead in pressing Western countries to normalize relations and support this usurper terrorist organization and send them humanitarian assistance free of any political demand (such as respect for human, women's, and minority rights). The message delivered in unison by the Qatari and Pakistani foreign ministers was effectively to tell Western governments to shut up and fork over the money. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sided with this position of waiving human, women's, and minority rights – all sacred UN principles. It is a fair assumption that this repudiation of core UN values was greased by the recent Qatari contribution of half a billion dollars to the UN.

When the U.S. president credits Qatar for its important role in facilitating intra-Afghan talks,[6] he is rewriting history, because Qatar did just the opposite: It induced the U.S. to talk exclusively with the Taliban. Ever since the Taliban conquered Kabul, Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera has served as the usurper's PR agency by covering up the Taliban's human rights violations, which are daily occurrences. Al-Jazeera's female anchors, who impersonate free Western female journalists, did not even report the massive demonstration by Afghan women in Kabul that the Taliban dispersed with whips and bats.[7]

It is not too difficult to understand the American president's domestic political need to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, and abandon a strategic position that constitutes a bone in the throats of Russia, China, and Iran. What is impermissible is self-delusion and conning others into believing that the retreat promotes the administration's new strategic priorities, when it effectively sabotages them.[8] Why, when taking a decision that harms American global interests, did the administration have to surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban instead of backing the allied government in Kabul, without American troops on the ground? Contrary to President Biden's scorn for the Afghan army as a force lacking fighting spirit, it was America that pulled the rug out from under the Afghan army while it was engaged in fierce fighting against the Taliban, by denying it the logistical support that was part of its doctrine and structure for many years. Why did it suddenly pull its air support that required only a miniscule footprint? This was a repetition of the congressional decision to pull the plug on the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) precipitating its speedy collapse.[9]

There is only one explanation for choosing the Taliban over America's long-time secular ally: Both the Trump and Biden administrations were in a sense hostage to Qatar's favors[10] and accepted the Qatari ill advice and walked into the trap of endorsing the Taliban. Otherwise, how can one understand American support for the Taliban, which killed and maimed so many Americans over the past two decades, and the groveling before Qatar, which aided and abetted the Taliban?

Inevitably, this situation will explode sooner or later. The puffed up Aal-Thani clan that has been punching way over its weight, surely forgot the story of the balloon that puffed itself up beyond its capacity.

One error made by Qatari hubris will not be forgotten or forgiven. It was the marginalization and humiliation of Turkish President Erdoğan, who was stripped of his intended role as savior of the Americans as manager-in-chief of Kabul airport. With this savior's role, Erdogan planned to extort from the U.S. various political payoffs: Recognition of its territorial status in Libya, Northern Cyprus, and Northern Syria, lifting sanctions imposed after the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, recognition of its extravagant claims in the East Mediterranean, and acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate political player. The Qatari emir stole Erdoğan's leading role and left him in the position of a scorned buffoon. Emir Tamim did not reckon that such an affront will result in Turkish payback. His father Hamad would not have committed such a mistake of incurring the wrath of the frustrated, shamed, and powerless sultan.

When the Qatari balloon finally does burst, America's further loss of power will be collateral damage to Doha's downfall. Such are the wages of alliance with Qatar.

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.

 

[1] Aljazeera.com, September 7, 2021.

[2] Nytimes.com, September 7, 2021.

[3] Bbc.com, September 14, 2021.

[4] MEMRI Daily Brief No. 296, Qatar: The 'Stealth' Pro-Islamist Subverter, July 15, 2021.

[5] State.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf, February 29, 2020.

[6] Whitehouse.gov, August 20, 2021

[7] Cnnturk.com/video/dunya/talibandan-kadinlara-sopa-ve-kirbacli-saldiri, September 9, 2021.

[9] For further information on this betrayal see the Afghan Chief of Staff Sami Sadat's op. ed. Nytimes.com, August 25, 2021.

[10] Qatar gained access to the Trump administration thanks to its willingness to spend big on American hardware and invest in infrastructure thus boosting employment statistics, and Trump personally thanked Emir Tamim telling him that the "investments that you make are very much appreciated". Gulftimes.com, July 19, 2021. See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 197, The US-Taliban Negotiations: A Deadly Qatari Trap, September 1, 2019. Another theory is more shameful. In August 2018, Brookfield Property Partners, a company in which the Qatari government is the second largest investor, took a 99-year lease, paying the full rent in advance, on the heavily indebted 666 Fifth Avenue, which is owned by the family of Jared Kushner. In December 2020, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) started an investigation into whether Jared Kushner "advised Donald Trump to support a blockade against Qatar while Kushner Companies was seeking a billion-dollar bailout from Qatari, and possibly other Middle Eastern officials, for the property at 666 Fifth Avenue." Nytimes.com, August 3, 2018.

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