These days, America has more trouble with its allies than its enemies.
Consider the strange case of Turkey and Qatar, two putative American allies. Both nations host essential U.S. air bases while supporting Islamist political parties, increasingly cooperating with Iran, America's most determined enemy in the region, and actively subverting U.S. policy in the region.
Questions began with the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an American-born Christian pastor who has lived in Turkey for 23 years without incident. Then, on October 7, 2016 Brunson and his wife Norine were seized as alleged coup plotters. Norine was released after being held for 13 days, without any charges being filed. Andrew Brunson has remained in detention since 2016 and the charges, when they finally appeared, were numerous and impossible to believe. Example: Brunson is a part of Mormon-inspired CIA plot to topple Turkey's elected government. (Brunson is not Mormon and has no known CIA connections.) If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
Turkey revealed its true intentions when it offered to exchange Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish Islamic cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. The Turkish government believes that Gülen and his alleged "Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization" are behind the July 2016 alleged attempted "coup" against the Turkish government. Dissidents maintain that the "coup" was manufactured to give the elected Islamist government cover to purge pro-secular senior military officers, opposition politicians and critical journalists. For more than a decade, Turkish politics has been roiled by a debate about undoing many of secular traditions and laws enacted at the founding of modern Turkey in the 1920s, but now moving toward a more Islamic model that is friendlier to Iran's Islamic dictatorship and less so toward the US and the EU. Brunson apparently became a pawn in a larger chess game.
Enter President Donald J. Trump, who has publicly called for Brunson's release while privately rejecting the idea of turning over Gülen, a legal U.S. resident, to a foreign court system unlikely to give him a fair trial in a charged political environment. Next, Trump piled on economic sanctions to try to spring the jailed American pastor.
Those sanctions have gravely wounded Turkey's weakening economy, but not weakened its resolve. Turkey's currency registered a 40% drop against the U.S. dollar this year. Foreign direct investment into Turkey has also slowed significantly this year. Still, its government has stayed the course and refused to free Brunson. Indeed, it upped the ante: Turkey's leader called on his followers to boycott iPhones and other iconic American products.
Remember, Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States and the second-largest contributor of troops to that vital alliance. It is also home to key U.S. air bases, including Incirlik, a massive complex near Adana housing some 5,000 US airmen.
As U.S. sanctions tightened, another U.S. ally, Qatar, intervened. Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani pledged to invest $15 billion in the Turkish economy during a recent visit -- and plainly declared that the point of the investment was to blunt the force of U.S. sanctions. With friends like these...
It is worth taking a closer look at America's putative ally, Qatar. It is also home to a major US air base at Al Udeid, from which American warplanes bomb the Taliban, ISIS and elements of Al Qaeda.
Yet Qatar funds some of the same groups that America bombs. The gas-rich peninsula channels money to Al Nusra, a Syria-based affiliate of al Qaeda. It had funded Taliban leaders in the run-up to the September 11 attacks and, just a few years ago, reportedly paid some $1 billion to Iran-backed terrorists to ransom captives held in Iraq and Syria.
Qatar funds still other groups that kills Americans. Qatar's emir has publicly and proudly announced his financial support for Hamas, which has been officially designated as a "terrorist organization" by the U.S. and the E.U. and Israel. Also, let us not forget the hundreds of millions of dollars that Qatar gives to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the gateway organization for almost every Sunni jihadi terrorist band in the Middle East. Al Qaeda's current leader, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, began his extremist journey in a Brotherhood chapter in Egypt, as did September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in its Kuwait branch. The onetime head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was indoctrinated in the Brotherhood's Jordan offshoot.
The emir has also welcomed Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual guide, to live in Qatar, as well as various senior Hamas officials.
Al Jazeera, Qatar's state-run broadcaster, frequently lionizes these groups, giving them air time to legitimize their murderous views toward Israel and America as well as their Arab neighbors.
Add to that, Qatar's alleged hacking of U.S. citizens (including former Republican National Committee finance chairman Elliott Broidy) and distributing their private emails to journalists, according to U.S. court filings.
Finally, Qatar has drawn close to America's biggest regional rival, Iran. It shares the vast offshore Pars gas field with the Islamic Republic — providing a river of money to the very nation that America suspects of building nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles to carry them to U.S. bases in the Middle East and Europe.
US Representative Ted Budd, a member of the Financial Services Committee and its Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee, in an essential article, states:
"Iran's continued support of the Hezbollah terrorist organization with both financial and political assistance, as well as weapons and tactical training, deserves close examination. Western diplomats and Lebanese analysts estimate that Iranian financial support for Hezbollah averages around $100 million each year, sometimes reaching amounts closer to a quarter of a billion dollars...All of these activities pose a direct threat to U.S. security interests, contribute to the prolonging of conflicts across the Middle East, and pose threats to our key allies in the region."
Taken together, the pattern is clear. Far from faithfully supporting current U.S. policy, Qatar is using every means at its disposal to subvert or alter it. Its slap-in-face funding of Turkey, while a US citizen is held captive there, is simply the latest example of the behavior of Qatar, supposedly a US ally.
Strangely, the Trump Administration seems to be of two minds about Qatar. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has spoken positively about Qatar's counter-terrorism efforts while the State Department has soft-pedaled Qatar's outrages. President Trump himself has not been consistent in his public statements about Qatar. According to an April 18, 2018 article in the New York Times:
"President Trump, who last year denounced the Persian Gulf state of Qatar as a "funder of terrorism" and backed its rivals in a contentious regional feud, welcomed its monarch to the Oval Office on Tuesday and portrayed him as a partner in the fight against extremists.
"The friendly visit represented a remarkable turnaround for a president who had once portrayed Qatar as part of the problem."
Ultimately, the Trump Administration will have to decide which set of its allies to back: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf Arab states, or Qatar and Turkey, each of which have cozied up to Iran. The way forward begins with a simple question: Which set of allies actually supports America and its objectives in the Middle East? Why not consider expanding the US deployment at Al-Dhafra airbase in the United Arab Emirates as a replacement for the airbases used by the US in Qatar and Turkey, if the UAE accept the idea?
An expanded US deployment at Al-Dhafra airbase in the United Arab Emirates could be considered as a replacement for the airbases used by the US in Qatar and Turkey. Pictured: A U.S. Air Force Memorial Day ceremony at Al Dhafra Airbase, May 28, 2018. (Image source: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Erica Rodriguez)
Resetting the alliance with Qatar will not be easy or cost-free. America maintains a large presence in the Al Udeid military base in Qatar, and Qatari investments in the U.S. economy are measured in billions. Hard choices lie ahead.
The cost of doing nothing, however, is even greater. If one nation is able to defy or undermine U.S. policy while still pocketing the benefits of America's friendship, many others may follow Qatar's example. Why should other Arab nations endure domestic criticism for supporting America's war on terror if they can subvert America but still enjoy America's military protection and their access to the world's largest market? What is a US ally if lip service will do the trick?
Richard Miniter, widely published in leading outlets, is author of three best-selling books and currently CEO of the American Media Institute, a non-profit news organization that provides original content to 180 major newspapers and 220 African-American weeklies.