Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Qatar’s Anti-Bullying Narrative

Qatar is working overtime to cast itself as a sympathetic character in its ongoing conflict with Saudi Arabia.

 

Lobelog

 

Fortunately the Qatar crisis has thus far not escalated into a military confrontation. Nonetheless, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) diplomatic row has escalated into a harsh war of narratives between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ)—Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This clash has played out in Western capitals with a host of public-relations firms, think tanks, and press outlets championing either Qatar or the ATQ’s narrative.

Despite its strenuous efforts, the quartet has failed to successfully sell its anti-Qatar narrative to the diplomatic and defense establishment in Washington, although President Donald Trump and other current and former officials have expressed varying degrees of support for the ATQ. To the contrary, the Saudi/UAE-led blockade of Qatar has arguably given Doha a valuable tool in Washington that it lacked prior to June 5, 2017: the victimhood card.

Before the Gulf dispute erupted, Qatar’s image in the US suffered from a host of issues. Voices in Washington criticized the emirate for its record of labor rights violations, alleged bribery to secure the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid, and Doha’s questionable ties with nefarious Islamist actors in the Muslim world. Yet most of these criticisms also extended to other GCC states including those in the ATQ that supported hardline Salafist fighters in Syria and whose economic development has relied on exploited foreign laborers.

The American Left in particular has had a rather negative perception of Qatar as a Western lackey that hosts the main US military installation in the Persian Gulf with a legal code based on an anti-LGBT sharia (Islamic) law. Anti-war voices in the US pointed to Qatar’s coordination with US military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya as a sign of Doha’s support of American hegemony and militarism in the Middle East.

US officials have had their own concerns about Qatari foreign policy and Doha’s ties with certain Islamist actors. But after the GCC’s diplomatic row broke out, the establishment in Washington found the ATQ’s blockade of Qatar to be too harsh, strategically flawed, and unjustified. As a geographically small country blockaded by its larger neighbors that shared Qatar’s only land border, Doha gained sympathy as an “underdog” from unexpected quarters. Qatar has used its ability to portray itself as the victim of the ATQ’s “bullying” to garner support in the US and other Western countries. Beyond Washington, leaders in other Western capitals such as Berlin, London, and Paris have also called for a lifting or easing of the blockade and have strongly affirmed their countries’ commitment to remaining Qatar’s allies.

For all the economic costs (to the tune of tens of billions of dollars) and sacrifices they have made to resist pressure to capitulate to the Saudi/UAE-led bloc’s demands, the Qataris have proven that they can chart their own course independently of the quartet. Yet a challenge for Qatar will be to take actions that back up its narrative about being different from other GCC states as a more modernized country. Doha has used the Gulf crisis as an opportunity to communicate to Western audiences that Qatar is unique in the GCC as a more tolerant, forward-thinking, and inclusive country committed to promoting democracy and human rights in the Arab world. Indeed, Qatar has argued that these attributes have made it the victim of the ATQ’s actions.

Qatar is keen to escape the negative perceptions that segments of Western societies had of the emirate prior to the Gulf dispute. Regarding the rights of Qatar’s foreign population, including the low-paid workers mainly from Asia, Doha has passed landmark legislation to abolish the Kafala system and received cautious praise from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for doing so (albeit with the caveat that implementation remains to be seen). Emir Tamim has also vowed to run elections to the country’s legislative body in 2019, which may serve to weaken the argument that Qatar hypocritically promotes democracy abroad while denying its own citizens the right to vote their lawmakers into power.

In response to the ATQ’s efforts to isolate the emirate, Doha has also turned to bodies of international law on disputes stemming from the GCC crisis. In this way, Doha seeks to portray itself as a responsible member of the international community determined to strengthen institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and various human rights organizations.

In the final analysis, although the future of the Gulf crisis is uncertain, Qatar has successfully gained sympathy by effectively using a narrative of victimhood. Although many in America criticized the emirate on a host of issues, the general perception of Qatar in Washington was that it was just “another Gulf state” guilty of the same objectionable policies and practices of other GCC states. The current dispute, however, has driven a wedge into the GCC, making it essentially irrelevant. Washington must thus come to terms with a new reality in which its closest Arab Persian Gulf allies are no longer cooperating with one another.

The war of narratives between Qatar and the quartet will continue in Washington and other Western capitals, with Doha continuing to portray itself as a country that has unjustly suffered for its independent reaction to the Arab world’s uprisings of 2011. Of all the ATQ’s miscalculations vis-à-vis Qatar, the gravest one was perhaps the quartet’s inability to predict how effectively Doha would leverage its image as a victim that has suffered for its promotion of modernity and openness in the Middle East.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


Falsely demonizing all Muslims, their beliefs, and their institutions is exactly the wrong way to make Americans safer, because the more we scare ourselves with imaginary enemies, the harder it will be to find and protect ourselves from real ones.


Division in the ranks of the conservative movement is a critical sign that a war with Iran isn’t inevitable.


Donald Trump stole the headlines, but the declaration from the recent NATO summit suggests the odds of an unnecessary conflict are rising. Instead of inviting a dialogue, the document boasts that the Alliance has “suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” The fact is, NATO was a child of the Cold War, when the West believed that the Soviets were a threat. But Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and there’s no way Moscow would be stupid enough to attack a superior military force.


War with Iran may not be imminent, but neither was war with Iraq in late 2001.


Donald Trump was one of the many bets the Russians routinely place, recognizing that while most such bets will never pay off a few will, often in unpredictable ways. Trump’s actions since taking office provide the strongest evidence that this one bet is paying off handsomely for the Russians. Putin could hardly have made the script for Trump’s conduct at the recent NATO meeting any more to his liking—and any better designed to foment division and distrust within the Western alliance—than the way Trump actually behaved.


RightWeb
share