As the nation remains focused on determining who won the presidential election, world events are not standing still.
All the challenges we faced around the globe the day before Americans went to the polls remain, and whoever sits in the Oval Office as president in January will have to deal with them. Front and center for either man will be the state of play in the Middle East and the course to steer after four years of the Trump administration.
Democrats may not want to hear it, but the situation in the Middle East has changed much for the better since 2016. In particular, what once appeared to be an intractable Israeli-Arab confrontation is now well on its way to resolution. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan have normalized relations with Jerusalem. Saudi Arabia cannot be far behind. Peace is breaking out and a budding Israeli-Sunni Arab alliance seems to be growing.
Yet, Qatar remains an outlier.
Qatar empowers and provides financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood and sponsors Islamic extremist groups throughout Europe. It continues to support Hamas and backs Islamic terrorists in the Horn of Africa. It has invited the military forces of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s new Ottoman Empire to build bases on its soil. It has allied itself with Iran, and it continues to encourage elements opposed to the governments of the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. These actions have resulted in a regional economic and diplomatic boycott of Doha by Sunni Arab states.
Meanwhile, incongruously, the United States continues to maintain massive military forces in Qatar, acting as if Doha is a reliable ally and can be depended upon to support our forces in a future crisis. In excess of 11,000 American servicemen and women are stationed in Qatar. The massive Al Udeid airbase is home to most of those personnel. The Combined Air Operations Center at the base provides command and control for U.S. air operations throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and 17 other nations. More than 100 U.S. aircraft operate out of the Qatar base.
The United States also maintains the As Sayliyah Army Camp in Qatar, where huge quantities of military equipment and hardware are prepositioned. In addition, U.S. Navy SEAL’s maintain a presence in Qatar, working out of a British military facility.
In short, the United States currently has an enormous military presence in a nation that increasingly opposes our policies and that may or may not allow us to utilize our vastly expensive bases in Qatar in a future crisis. Lest that eventuality seem unlikely we need only look at the situation in which we find ourselves at Incirlik in Turkey, where the Turks prevented us from operating in the past and, more recently, have made noises about shutting the airbase entirely.
As Incerlik does for the Turkish government, so does Al Udeid provide the Qatari ruling family and “insurance policy” against pressure from those who disapprove of its actions and policies.
We should also note that because President Trump has moved to wind down the seemingly endless Middle East wars, the necessity to maintain bases on the scale we have for decades is dissipating. Taking a hard look at our presence in Qatar is not only a wise political and national security move it makes eminent sense from a fiscal perspective as well.
There are solid alternatives for the relocation of our bases out of Qatar. In fact, in 2018, Congress examined moving them to places like the UAE, Jordan, Iraq, or Bahrain. The UAE or Bahrain would be superb choices, and we already have a military presence in both places. In UAE, in particular, the local government would likely pay the lion’s share of the cost of building new facilities.
The Middle East is changing for the better. It once seemed that the future would be more of the same: violence, terrorism and economic stagnation. Suddenly there is a very real possibility that the region may have hope and the world’s most unstable region may emerge into an era of peace. Qatar has decided to steer another course. It has thrown in with Iran, Islamic extremists and the forces of disorder.
We must now act accordingly. Continuing to pretend that Qatar’s policies are in line with ours and with the interests of the people of the Middle East is counter-productive at best. Israelis and Arabs are making peace and putting the past behind them. The Qataris have chosen to stand in opposition to this new hope and to side with the forces of division and violence that have reigned in the region for too long.
It is time for us to also take a stand. It is time to recognize that Doha’s policies and ours are in opposition. Whoever wins, it is time to reckon with Qatar.
• Sam Faddis, former CIA operations officer with experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe, is a senior analyst at Ravenna Associates, a strategic communications company. He is the author of “Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” and, with Mike Tucker, “Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq.”
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