End the 'big wink' in US-Middle East foreign policy
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On May 21, the Trump administration reset our Mideast alliances at a Riyadh summit as the president outlined a new four-part strategy to: (1) destroy ISIS; (2) stop other Islamic terror groups; (3) protect our regional allies; and (4) prevent the rise of an Iranian hegemonic power.

But to be effective, the strategy had to work to reform policies of our coalition members but keep our important regional military assets intact. Key concerns identified at the meeting involved Qatar.

Why Qatar? It provides sanctuary and financing to the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, and Iranian militias in Syria and Libya. Qatar is also the home of Al Jazeera a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood, a kind of voice of jihad, fueling terror recruitment and fundraising. In Iraq, as relayed by Middle East expert Michael Rubin, Al Jazeera cooperated with terrorists to lure American soldiers into an ambush, and then filmed the soldiers, being maimed and killed with IED’s.

But Qatar does provide the United States with a critically important airbase at Al Udeid. Supporters further explain such a “bargain” is a “realpolitik” wink and cannot be avoided.

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It is true that over much of the period following the surge in oil prices following the 1973 Mideast oil embargo, the West made such Faustian bargains, with many of the Gulf states. We buy oil without interruption. They recycle their petrodollar earnings, buy our weapons and invest in our equities. In return, the West would largely ignore the Gulf State support for terrorism.

In 1978 at Camp David, Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin ended the state of war between the two nations. It was hoped that with the deal, the big “wink” would diminish. Certainly, it was assumed, with Egypt, the largest country in the Arab world, formally recognizing Israel, terrorism would be reined in.

Unfortunately, terrorism increased, set in motion by a confluence of subsequent events including the 1979 terror attacks on the Islamic shrines in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan as well as Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran.

For the next two decades, there were eight highly sophisticated terror attacks against the United States in Beirut, Lebanon and Kuwait City, Kuwait in 1983, at a West Berlin disco in 1986, over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, in New York at the World Trade Center in 1993, at Khobar Towers in 1995, at two African based American embassies in 1998, and aboard the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

Numerous state sponsors of terror participated in these attacks-But even when we found Iranian fingerprints over many of these attacks, we left Iran alone militarily, allowing it to be a sanctuary in which terrorists could hide, plan and plot.

And 22 years later, 17 of the hijackers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, trained by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran, given sanctuary in Afghanistan by the Taliban, flew airplanes into our World Trade Center and Pentagon, and 3,000 people perished.  

A New Strategy

As Iran is the world’s premier terror backer, we cannot engage in serial winks any longer. An anti-terror Gulf coalition cannot be effective if some of its members are themselves supporting Iran and terrorism.

Qatar has been playing a double game, but admittedly this is a game played (but now diminished) by other regional actors. Also important is to end the tendency to excuse terrorism. For example, President Carter argued, the Palestinians, lacking military aircraft, logically had to turn to terror bombing to affect change. Some years later President Clinton similarly explained, if a Palestinian state were created by Israel, that would cut back the impetus for terrorism greatly. And former Congressman Ron Paul argued Al Qaeda was justified in attacking us on 9-11 because we had stationed American troops in Saudi Arabia.  

Thankfully, the administration appears to understand terrorism is a tool its state sponsors use to spread their ideology and power. The administration also works from the welcome assumption that no grievances justify terror attacks and has the belief that a strong coalition is necessary as we face not only terrorist sponsor Iran but its allied accomplices Syria and Russia.

The administration knows it needs a new counter-terror strategy which doesn’t repeat the trillions in costs and thousands of casualties we endured since 9-11.

Now this effort has some urgency as the Iran threat is more sophisticated. Iran’s growing ballistic missile capability is targeted at key centers of Mideast power. The Yemeni Houthi rebels with Iranian supplied missiles have targeted Riyadh, key Saudi air bases, and oil facilities.

So what is the status of coalition efforts?

The Saudi led coalition has made demands on Qatar, most of which have been rejected, although Qatar did promise U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson an effort to shut-down terrorist financing.

But that is not enough. Qatar once believed the Muslim Brotherhood was the wave of the future. This may explain some of its enthusiasm in supporting that terror group.

Thus it is the Gulf coalition has demanded that Qatar end all terrorist ties, shut down Al Jazeera, and declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. (Other coalition members should likewise take similar action where warranted.)

The coalition could present a common front against Iran. It may be the Qatar leaders now still feel free not to change their act except cosmetically. But there may be a way forward to achieve the goals of the coalition.

Qatar’s leaders don’t want to cave in to the demands of the Saudis. And while under the pressure of an embargo imposed by the Gulf coalition, supplies are reaching Qatar from Turkey and Iran by sea while oil and gas exports continue. And Senator Corker is stopping U.S. arms shipment to the entire coalition, further complicating matters.

What then are our options?

One, do nothing and leave the “big wink” in place. If we do, the Muslim Brotherhood terror machine no doubt will come calling.

Two, adopt the Qatar proposal to better scrutinize “terror financing”. But this is seriously short of what is needed.

Third, tell Qatar we will keep the U.S. airbase at Al Udeid but Qatar must work out a deal.  

In this way, just as Presidents Sadat and Begin did in 1978, so too can Qatar “agree” to United States “proposals,” indirectly adopt Gulf coalition conditions, and dismantle the June 5 embargo.

Agree with Father Uncle Sam but not with Cousin Saud — that will be the spin.

In this way Qatar can become a genuine ally of the United States, with our Al Udeid airbase intact, Al Jazeera’s “voice of jihad” shut down, and an allied coalition, effectively armed, taking shape.

Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association. He is also the president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm.


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