Assessing the U.S.-Qatar Relationship

Photograph from State Dept. Flickr account, Public domain

On July 26th, FDD’s Dr. Jonathan Schanzer testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa to assess, or reassess, the U.S.-Qatar Relationship. He joined Dr. Matthew Levitt, Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, and Ilan Goldenberg, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

The current Qatar crisis with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE represents a challenge to American interests. Schanzer noted that these countries have taken steps to isolate Qatar because of its longstanding support for destabilizing actors in the Middle East. But decisions to challenge Qatar in early June may have been prompted by reports, not yet confirmed by U.S. officials, of Qatar sharing military positions of Saudi and Emirati soldiers with militants in Yemen.

Schanzer said Qatar’s support of terrorism “is overt, it is egregious, and it is brazen.” Evidence suggests that Qatar has supported Hamas, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and the Houthis, among other extremist groups in the region. Schanzer noted that Qatar insists that its definition of terrorism differs from that of its critics.

When asked what Qatar stands to gain by subsidizing terrorists, Schanzer explained “Qatar realizes it is extremely vulnerable…it doesn’t have the means to push back on some of its very tough neighbors.” It uses legitimate means interchangeably with terrorist proxies and targeted investments, using “whatever means they have to purchase power.”.

Schanzer suggested that the best U.S. policy “isn’t to back one Gulf state or another” since many are guilty of similar behavior, but rather to “pursue policies ensuring that terrorist financing in the Gulf comes to an end.” He provided several recommendations on how to proceed.

First, Congress should reassess the placement of al-Udeid, a crucial U.S. air base in the Middle East. Keeping it in Qatar while Qatar supports terrorism perpetuates an “insane arrangement,” Schanzer said. He suggested signaling to the Qataris that “we are willing to move” the base if they do not change their policies regarding terror support. He argued, “we need to send a clear, unified message to the Qataris saying that we demand change.”

Second, Congress and the Justice Department should coordinate to ensure that Qatar not only adopts new laws to combat terrorist financing, but that it fully implements them.

Schanzer encouraged congress to move forward with the bipartisan Stop Terrorist Operational Resources and Money (STORM) Act, which passed in the Senate but not yet in the House of Representatives. This legislation would target countries that have emerged as jurisdictions of terrorism finance concern.

Schanzer encouraged the committee to press the State Department to issue its report on which states paid ransom to terrorists in the past year. Qatar stands accused of engaging in the practice, which is how groups like al-Qaeda in Syria have raised funds in recent years.

Schanzer discussed the controversial issue of Gulf money in Washington. The massive amount of Gulf money in Washington has obfuscated the challenges of terrorism finance coming from that region. The lobbyists and influencers encourage U.S. officials to support their investors’ interests even as their behaviors clearly challenge American interests.

The hearing lasted for more than two hours, with no less than 24 members of Congress participating. Dr. Schanzer’s testimony provided the committee with a clear sense of the Qatar challenge, while also delineating steps to address that challenge.

Read and download the full testimony here.

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