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Testimony

Assessing the U.S.-Qatar Relationship

Testimony for House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa
26th July 2017

Download the full testimony here.

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My testimony today will look at the substance behind the current Gulf spat, with a focus on Qatar’s support for a range of extremist groups and the grievances that the other Arab states harbor against Qatar. At the end, I will address the question of U.S. military assets in Qatar, as well as several policies that Washington should consider.

Context

Members of the committee, as you know, FDD has been producing research and analysis on Qatar since the eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011. Our critique of Qatari foreign policy has been consistent. We have pointed to Qatari support for Hamas, the Taliban, jihadists in Syria, jihadists in Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood. We have been critical of the Qataris for the invective that is too often broadcast on state-owned Al-Jazeera. And we have noted through the excellent work of my colleague David Andrew Weinberg that Qatar has failed to take action against numerous U.S.- and UN-designated terrorist financiers living in Qatar.[1]

We have not singled out Qatar. Indeed, we have produced work that is critical of the other Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, when it has been warranted. FDD’s David Andrew Weinberg testified about Saudi Arabia’s troubling educational curriculum before the House Foreign Affairs Committee just last week.[2] But Qatar has been an obvious area of interest in light of its incredibly brazen and open support for terrorist groups designated by the United States.

This support for terrorist groups is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that Qatar is home to the al-Udeid air base, the launch point for thousands of strikes carried out by the U.S. in the war on terrorism. When confronted over its support for extremists, Qatar’s response has been lax or dismissive, with little in the way of new commitments or follow-through. The fact is, Qatar has wielded its immense wealth and soft power to undermine U.S. interests, including America’s allies in the region.

FDD has worked hard to educate Congress, the executive, and the American public on the challenge of Qatar. We found that the previous administration was generally willing to listen, but was unwilling to redress the problem. Having failed to gain much traction for six years, we decided to hold a conference on U.S. Qatar policy with the arrival of a new administration. We held our event on May 23 here in Washington, DC.[3]

Our conference was, I believe, the first major conference to shine a light on Qatar. It featured current and former officials, figures from both sides of the aisle, who expressed deep concerns about Qatar, its support for extremist groups, and its long-term viability as a U.S. ally if that support continued. Shortly after the conference concluded, we learned that the Qatar News Agency was hacked. The Qatari response intimated that Doha saw our conference as part of a coordinated assault.[4] To be clear: We had nothing to do with it. FDD strongly condemns hacking. Now, according to the Washington Post, the U.S. intelligence agency allegedly believes that the UAE was behind the hack against Qatar, although the Emirati ambassador to Washington vehemently denies this.[5]

Several days after the Qatar News Agency hack, the Emirati ambassador was himself hacked. His emails were leaked to journalists worldwide. The U.S. intelligence community has yet to determine who was behind that attack. Several stories emerged featuring emails between my colleagues at FDD and the ambassador. The implication was that we were coordinating our efforts with the UAE or that we take Emirati money.[6] For the record, FDD took no direction from a foreign government. Nor did we take any foreign government money. Although many think tanks engage in this practice, we never have and never will.

The hack and hack-back has since yielded a full-blown spat among the Gulf states. The Gulf and other Arab states cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, blocking maritime, land, and air routes for both traffic and trade.[7] Qatar’s financial ratings have dropped,[8] and its currency has been under strain.[9]

Qatar has been defiant, insisting that its definition of terrorism differs greatly from its critics. Qatar’s alternate view of reality and morality is a poor defense. It is reminiscent of the so-called “affluenza” teen who was charged with a drunk driving crash that killed four people, but whose defense team argued that the teen’s life of privilege made it difficult for him to determine right from wrong.[10] A country of great wealth, Qatar is now effectively arguing the same thing. But the Qataris fully grasp the list of grievances against them. I will summarize them below.



[1] David Andrew Weinberg, “Qatar and Terror Finance, Part II: Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, January 2017. (http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/11717_Weinberg_Qatar_Report.pdf)

[2] David Andrew Weinberg, “Saudi Arabia’s Troubling Educational Curriculum,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 19, 2017. (http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20170719/106289/HHRG-115-FA18-Wstate-WeinbergD-20170719.pdf)

[3] “Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates: New U.S. Administration Considers New Policies,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, May 23, 2017. (http://www.defenddemocracy.org/events/qatar-and-muslim-brotherhood/)

[4] “Qatar faces hostile media campaign, particularly in US: FM,” The Peninsula (Qatar), May 25, 2017, (https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/25/05/2017/Qatar-faces-hostile-media-campaign,-particularly-in-US-FM)

[5] Aya Batrawy and Fay Abuelgasim, “Qatar suggests cyberattack emanated from a Gulf neighbor,” July 20, 2017, The Washington Post, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/qatar-suggests-cyberattack-emanated-from-gulf/2017/07/20/18522be6-6d64-11e7-abbc-a53480672286_story.html?utm_term=.f4908db5e65a)

[6] Akbar Shahid Ahmed, “Someone Is Using These Leaked Emails To Embarrass Washington’s Most Powerful Ambassador,” The Huffington Post, June 3, 2017, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/otaiba-ambassador-uae-leaked-emails_us_5932bf04e4b02478cb9bec1c)

[7] “Saudi Arabia, Egypt lead Arab states cutting Qatar ties, Iran blames Trump,” Reuters, June 5, 2017. (http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/04/saudi-arabia-bahrain-and-egypt-cut-diplomatic-ties-with-qatar.html)

[8] Alec Macfarlane, “Qatar hit by ratings downgrade over blockade crisis,” CNN, June 8, 2017, (http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/08/investing/qatar-rating-downgrade/index.html)

[9] Alanna Petroff, “British banks have stopped selling Qatari cash,” CNN, June 30, 2017 (http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/30/investing/qatar-riyal-uk-currency/index.html)

[10] Lisa Maria Garza and Timothy Williams, “Teenager Who Used ‘Affluenza’ Defense Is Sentenced to Jail,” The New York Times, April 13, 2016. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/us/teenager-who-used-affluenza-defense-is-sentenced-to-jail.html)