Why Does Qatar have such a deep influence in Washington?

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Why Does Qatar have such a deep influence in Washington?
« on: June 14, 2014, 07:13:56 PM »
Friday, 13 June 2014

Why Does Qatar have such a deep influence in Washington?
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Last Sunday, June 8, 2014, this writer hosted The Lisa Benson Radio Show  of the Salem Radio Network that originates on Phoenix radio station KKNT960AM.  The program concerned the prominent role of Qatar, the wealthy  tiny Emirate adjacent to Saudi Arabia in the energy rich Persian Gulf  and its deep influence with the Obama Administration. Reflective of that was Qatar’s recent pivotal role in providing a safe haven for the release of five senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo detention. They  who were swapped for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who left his forward operating base in Eastern Afghanistan in late June 2009 and returned to  American custody on May 31st, 2014.  The Taliban established  an office in Qatar in 2013 to  engage in negotiations with  the Administration  and the  Afghan  government seeking to end the  13 year war.  Qatar has been called a “Frenemy” and  “ATM for the Muslim Brotherhood”  by Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). This because of the Emirate’s funding billions to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) groups across the Middle East and North Africa.   That included the former Egyptian government under ousted President Morsi, Hamas, and  weapons deliveries from Libya to opposition MB-backed forces in Syria. Qatar had also given sanctuary in the 1990’s to a major Al Qaeda figure, 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammed.  Our thanks to Ms. Alice Lara who  substituted for Ms. Benson in the KKNT studio.

Against this background, we invited two guests to  the Lisa Benson Show on June 8, 2014; Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Vallely, renowned military, special operations and intelligence analyst and Dr. David A. Weinberg, a colleague of Dr. Schanzer’s at FDD, expert in both Saudi Arabian and Gulf Affairs. What follows is our interview with Dr. Weinberg on Qatar’s deep influence in Washington.

Jerry Gordon:                       .  Today’s program is keyed off an event that occurred last week.  That was the swap of Sergeant Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders released from Guantanamo and flown to Qatar in the Persian Gulf. In the middle of this controversy is a very small country with a rather amazing strategic reach around the world and all manner of conflicts.  One of our immediate guests, Dr. David Weinberg's colleague, whom we know well, Jonathan Schanzer, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, has called Qatar a ‘Frenemy’ not exactly a friend and not exactly an enemy.  It’s a role that Qatar has played by giving safe housing for five leading Taliban commanders, two of whom who have been designated war criminals. That brings the “Frenemy” charge against Qatar back into focus.  Dr. Weinberg is a senior fellow at the FDD.  He primarily is engaged in working on Saudi Arabian and Gulf affairs.  He previously was a staff member for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where he advised the Chairman on Middle East policies and U.S. policies towards the region.  He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was affiliated for five years with the MIT’s  Security Studies Program.  He has a forthcoming book aptly named, Meddling for Peace which talks about how American Presidents and Secretaries of State,  have repeatedly intervened in the internal Israeli and Palestinian leadership contests..  Dr. Weinberg, exactly where is Qatar located?  How big is its population and why is it so wealthy?

David Weinberg:                   Qatar is a tiny country in the Persian Gulf.  It is in the shape of a thumb, sticking off of the Arabian Peninsula which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia.  It is approximately the size of  the State of Connecticut and its population is approximately two million people.  Only about ten percent of them are actually Qatari citizens.  The rest of them are foreign laborers and the families of foreign laborers brought into Qatar.  Qatar is extremely wealthy in part due to energy resources.  Qatar's main wealth is from natural gas located offshore in the North Field that it shares with Iran.  Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and has the third largest natural gas reserves estimated anywhere in the world, after o Iran and Russia.   In the last two decades in Qatar has become extremely wealthy from this natural gas resource.  It has been seeking to find a way to turn that into international political influence.

Gordon:                     Dr. Weinberg, what sect of Islam do Qatar’s rulers, the Al Thani family, espouse?

Weinberg:                   The Al Thani family in Qatar have ruled the country for well over one hundred years.  They adhere to the same sect of Islam that the ruling family in Saudi Arabia does  which is Wahhabism.  This is a relatively strident form of  Sunni Islam.  The sect founder of the Wahhabism, al Wahab, was a figure from 200 to 250 years ago in the peninsula who held very strident beliefs about the religious importance of waging physical military violent Jihad. Jihad against the religious ‘other’, against Shia, against Sufis, against Christians and Jews and others whom he dismissed as idolaters. Now the extent to which this sect of Islam and the teachings of Al Wahab are literally applied to Qatar’s foreign policy is the question.

Gordon:                     We know from news reports that Qatar has a world reach in communications.  It founded Al Jazeera satellite TV and Qatar Airways.  Why are they located there and why did they spend a half a billion dollars to buy Al Gore's former Cable TV channel here in the US?

Weinberg:                   This is part and parcel of the Qatari's attempt to turn their main resource natural gas  into regional and world influence.   They are a tiny country with a small population and the inability to raise a powerful  military.  As a result they look for other ways to exert influence and one of those is to spend a great deal of money over the last seventeen years through Al Jazeera.   Al Jazeera has espoused hard core Arab Islamist  nationalist sentiment throughout the region.  Most recently that included buying Al Gore’s Current TV satellite spot in order to broadcast through Al Jazeera America another version of Qatari views.  It actually has been  outspoken criticizing the practice of fracking which has significantly increased America's oil and natural gas production which Qataris worry could actually undermine their own wealth, natural gas. As a result, it is extremely questionable why  Al Jazeera America says  fracking is bad for the environment.

Gordon:                     Why has the Emir of Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood?

Weinberg:                  I think this ties into the Qatari ideology that they promote with regard to Al Jazeera and they see it as an opportunity to make up for their population shortfall. They see this established, hard core extremist network  having  influential access  in virtually every country throughout the region. They see it as an opportunity to gain new prospects and allies in the region.  Unfortunately that means promoting a clandestine regional network that as we have seen in places like Egypt,  Tunisia and  Libya don't have a very democratic view  when  they  come to power.

Gordon:                      What Muslim Brotherhood groups has the Emir supported?  I know that your FDD colleague Jon Schanzer has referred to Qatar as the ATM for the Muslim Brotherhood.  I wonder if you could outline just a few examples of the kind of enormous fiscal support it has supplied to the movement.

Weinberg:                   My colleague Dr. Schanzer and I have written a lot on this.  The Qataris have spent several billion dollars reportedly in Syria supporting the opposition against the Assad regime which they view as a murderous.  In so doing they primarily bolstered elements of the Muslim Brotherhood or even more hard core elements among the armed rebel factions.  They have also provided approximately eight billion dollars in aid to the Morsi government when it was in power in Egypt. They have provided according to some estimates several billion dollars to Muslim Brotherhood activists in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Sudan.

Gordon:                     What have they supplied to Hamas both in terms of sanctuary as well as funding?

Weinberg:                  The Saudi government recently black listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and yet the Saudis did not actually black list Hamas.  Which is contradictory if you are going to say that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization the most obvious one is Hamas.  Hamas, which still to this day advocates suicide bombings, attacking civilians and genocide against  the Jewish people.   Hamas has gotten the greatest support in the Gulf, not from the Saudis but from the Qatari.  Hamas’s chief of their political wing Khaled Meshaal still to this day lives in Qatar.  There was some rumor that the Qataris would kick him out when the new Emir came to power last year but in fact he did not and even met with Meshaal.

Gordon:                     Dr. Weinberg, why does Qatar have such influence with the US Administration in view of the fact that at one point in time its royal family actually provided sanctuary to a major  9/11 figure, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?  Furthermore our government has spent roughly a half a billion dollars for a Combat Air Base as well as CENTCOMM logistic facilities in the country. What is the magic here? Why is Washington supporting Qatar?

Weinberg:                  Qatar played a central role mediating in the recent hostage release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who was held by the Taliban in exchange for five GITMO prisoners who were released and flown to Qatar where they will be held for a year with travel restrictions.  Qatar is extremely central as an American partner in many of America’s actions within the Middle East both because it has influence with a lot of bad actors like the Taliban, Hezbollah,  Hamas and  others with  terrorist doctrine formally or informally affiliated with Al Qaeda.  There are times where America has looked to Qatar to have influence with actors like the Taliban.  Similarly, the Qataris have a great deal of leverage over the U.S. Government because they are hosts to America's most important Gulf military base at Al Udeid Air Base where the United States has its forward operating base for CENTCOMM  which is  the US  military command for all of America's operations in this region.  It is host to the combined air and space operations center that Secretary of Defense Hagel recently stated  is in Qatar which is the air base that coordinates all of the important air operations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Having this base gives the Qataris some degree of impunity in terms of how the American Government deals with them.  So just down the road at Al Jazeera they can be stirring up anti-Americanism including anti-Americanism related to  America's fight in Iraq and the United States generally tends to just turn a blind eye.

Gordon:                      What Washington lobbying resources and conduits does Qatar fund?

Weinberg:                  The Qataris face a common challenge for oil producing countries in the Gulf that have very limited populations.  Especially when it comes to trained populations that can speak English and handle some human capital issues.  As a result they bring in foreign nationals to work in their embassies and they off-load a lot of their lobbying and influence work to corporations and PR firms in Washington. They also use other organizations that receive money from Qatar in order to represent their interests.  There was a recent report by a Norwegian organization about Norwegian efforts to lobby in Washington through funding think tanks and other resources.  This report said we've spent millions and millions of dollars in the last few years on this but we don't spend anywhere near as much as Qatar does on the United States.

Gordon:                      Has Qatar, provided back channel venues for U.S. officials to begin negotiations with Iran about possible remediation of their nuclear program?

Weinberg:                  I think the information on this count is somewhat unclear.  The Qataris love to serve as an intermediary and we know that their neighbor Oman definitely did play a role as a very important intermediary between the United States and Iran leading up to this plan of action agreement that was reached last year in Geneva.  The Qataris are frequent funders of conferences for instance to bring together actors from all over the region often including a lot of U.S. officials or former officials.  Sometimes they are according to press reports seem to be Muslim Brotherhood individuals involved with some of these events.  I think this was particularly notable back in 2012 when it seemed like the Muslim Brotherhood was coming to power in a number of countries and they could be the future wave of the region.

Lara:                                      What lobbying firm has Qatar worked with in Washington?

Weinberg:                  There are a number of lobbying firms that the Qataris have paid to advocate for them over the years.  While I don't have the exact list of companies. However, all of them are on public record either in registrations with the Justice Department or with the Secretaries of both the House and the Senate. There are also a number of organizations that play a similar role in terms of advocating for the Qatari friendly point of view that are not legally technically lobbyists per se.  One interesting anecdote for instance of a lobbyist firm registered with the Senate and the House was a law firm in the United States named DLA Piper which was working as a lobbyist for Al Jazeera America, the Qatari owned TV. station.  Interestingly enough Qatar came under very significant criticism, according to a number of newspaper and human rights organization reports.  This was based on allegations of pervasive forced labor, death and workplace accidents related to foreign workers who had been put in unsafe work conditions purportedly related to the construction of  World Cup 2022 FIFA facilities. The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar if current plans go forward.  This law firm in the United States was simultaneously not  only lobbying for Qatar on  Al Jazeera America matters,  but were also hired by the Qataris to purportedly provide  independent investigations into Qatar’s apparent forced labor practices.  That raised questions among some skeptics about whether DLA Piper might have a conflict of interest.

Gordon:   Dr. Weinberg, thank you for this highly informative discussion of Qatar and why it has such an outsized influence on the Administration.

Weinberg:   Thank you for inviting me.
Sent in by Guy

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