former national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney "John Hannah"_ Photo via defenddemocracy website
CAIRO – 2 June 2017: Qatar’s relations with Arab and Gulf States have strained in the recent days following Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’ remarks against neighboring countries, which have declared their war on terrorism; senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies John Hannah said in an interview to Egypt Today that the Qatari regime is trying to appease terrorist groups to secure itself from those groups.
Hannah served as former Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser from 2005 to 2009.
1- How do you see the latest crisis between Egypt and Gulf states on one hand and Qatar on the other? and why, on your opinion, has Tamim decided to go in this fight against his neighbors after Riyadh Summit with President Trump?
The conflict is serious and deeply concerning. The state system in the Middle East is under tremendous strain from the threats of radical Islamism, on the one hand, and an imperialist Iranian theocracy, on the other. This is a time when the forces of stability and security should be rallying together to deter and contain the common challenges that risk the region’s ruin,
For more than 20 years, the decision-making of Qatar’s rulers has confounded American policymakers. I’m not sure we’ve come up with a good explanation of why the Doha regime does what it does. Does it appease extremist forces to ensure they won’t threaten the regime at home? Is it seeking to build leverage and an insurance policy against more powerful neighbors? Is it the only way that a tiny, relatively weak state can hope to gain prestige and wield influence on the world stage? Are its leaders actually in some degree of ideological sympathy with the radical Islamist agenda? Perhaps it’s some combination of all these factors.
2- In your recent article for “Foreign Policy,” you described Qatar as a two-face friend to the U.S...If Tamim continues this policy, what is the action should Washington take to address this problem? Will it seek to impose any kind of sanctions against Doha?
After almost two decades of fighting forces of terrorism in the Middle East, Americans are growing increasingly frustrated with friends that seem to speak out of both sides of their mouths — claiming that they’re fighting terrorists in one breath while supporting extremism in the next. A big part of President Trump’s appeal to the people that voted for him was his promise to put an end to such situations.
I expect both the new administration and the Congress to become much more honest in their conversations with the regime in Doha. If Qatar continues to be a place where some of the region’s most destabilizing and destructive forces are able to find aid and comfort as they go about undermining U.S. interests across the Middle East, I think the strong bilateral relationship will become increasingly difficult to sustain.
Already, there are moves in Congress to pass legislation giving the President the authority to impose sanctions against states, like Qatar, that provide support to U.S.-designated terrorist groups such as Hamas. And there is currently a lot of talk in Washington about having the Pentagon seriously research alternative basing sites for our military outside of Qatar.
3- To what extent Qatar is fueling the Middle East? And why it strongly bets on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists although it claims adopting moderate vision of Islam?
Qatar, like many other states in the region, has for a long time been both part of the solution and part of the problem when it comes to extremism. Other than Israel, the United States probably has had no better military partner in the Middle East — at least in terms of the level of access granted to our forces and their complete freedom of operations.
At the same time, there’s no question that Qatar has provided ample support — in the form of safe haven, fundraising opportunities, media platforms, and even weapons — to radical Islamists and terrorists that are working every day to undermine and attack American interests across the region. Why? See my answer to question 1 above. It is a mystery that American policymakers have been trying to unravel about Qatar’s so-called “moderate” rulers for decades: Why does a regime that claims to be an ally and that provides the U.S. military with more support than almost any other country in the region continue to be such a friendly jurisdiction for many of the Middle East’s most destructive and destabilizing elements? How can a small state that is so dependent on America for its security and survival believe that its interests are best served by granting aid and comfort to some of America’s worst enemies?
4- Do you believe Qatar is using Al-Jazeera to achieve its interests in the region?
Al-Jazeera entered the scene at a time when news media in the Middle East was awful. State-controlled, boring, oppressive, poor quality, and detached from the things that were important to the lives of the region’s peoples who yearned to be not only subjects, but citizens. In that environment, Al-Jazeera was a revolutionary breath of fresh air. It shook things up. It offered real debate. It was interesting. It was slick. It broached taboo issues. In that sense, Al-Jazeera made a real contribution that no one can deny.
But Al Jazeera also had a dark side. It was of course controlled by the Qatari regime. And to the extent that the regime, for whatever reasons, often saw its power served by indulging radical Islamists and anti-Americanism, Al Jazeera inevitably became an instrument of that destabilizing agenda. Rather than fighting the ideological forces that brought the ruin of 9/11 down on the Middle East, Al Jazeera too often appeased and amplified them.
5- If things in Qatar go worse, does the U.S. see any alternative capability of governing this state and bringing stability to the region?
The question of who governs Qatar should of course be in the hands of the people of Qatar. The only thing that the United States can control is its own bilateral relationship with Doha. Qatar has been and should in the future be an important and reliable ally of the United States. Moving the relationship unambiguously in that direction should be Washington’s goal. But that means seeing things as they are, with all their problems and complications. We need to tackle those problems head on with honesty and openness.
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