Qatar Vainly Trying to Buy Truth and Goodwill

The Qatari regime is desperate. It can be noticed on the face of the Qatar Emir on a US visit. He sits on a sofa with President Donald Trump holding his hand, not sure of himself as he looks into Trump’s eyes, wearing a faint and wan smile. The tight embraces with Iran are not paying dividends.

Qatar’s calculations have gone wrong. With the Trump regime pulling the plug on the Obama-era nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs, Tehran is floundering. Its façade of bravado has fallen. Reducing its ability to prop up Doha to browbeat its neighbours and widen its political influence.

Realising this, Qatar has opened its purse strings to splurge some millions on influencing the influential in the American political landscape. In 2015 and 2016 it spent a total of merely $8.5 million on lobbying; in 2017 the figure was nearly four times as much.

How come it does not occur to Qatar that it is not having a showdown with down-at-heel neighbours? Of the four countries which have isolated Qatar – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – the last two have pockets as deep if not deeper than Doha and have put down $25 million each for the purpose.

This cash for lobbying has also unmasked former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who has been hired by Qatar for being close to Trump. He worked for the Qataris on an investigation, visited Doha weeks before being nominated Trump’s personal lawyer in April and has the cheek to tell the world he has not spoken to Trump about his Qatar work!

It’s the same Giuliani who, in the aftermath of 9/11, spurned a well-meaning offer of $10 million aid for disaster relief from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. But since unlike the Talal offer the Qatari cash is going into Rudy’s own pocket he seems eager and willing to whitewash Qatar’s terror-financing.

All the same, money does talk. Already US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praised Qatar for its cooperation on counter-terrorism financing. This notwithstanding the Arab Quartet severed ties with Doha in June 2017. They accused it of fomenting regional unrest, trying to subvert the Bahrain regime, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran. All of these activities considered anathema to the US foreign policy-makers.

So Doha’s $24 million strategy has managed to buy it the hectoring voice of certain lawmakers and men with the ear of the powers that be who would proclaim Qatar is a US ally in its fight against terrorism and, more notably, victim of an unfair blockade and boycott. PR machinery was oiled with the promise of billions of dollars in U.S. investments or business among other things.

The consequence is that a bill moved by the chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee a month before the Arab Quartet boycott last year, which named Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism, remains stalled in Congress. The US administration, somehow, is also conscious of the fact that it has a military base in Qatar and any pressure on Doha beyond a point could prove counter-productive in view of the rising Qatari proximity to Iran.

So time and resources are well-spent in the reckoning of Doha’s minions and the work of replacing Arab Quartet’s truths with the Qatari truths is moving apace. In the process America’s Boeing has also received an order for six aircraft worth $2.16 billion from Qatar Airways.

But falsehoods disguised as truths and sugar-coated statements do not work beyond a point. Facts on the ground eventually have a way of asserting themselves on the observers’ consciousness.

Doha might buy a few lobbyists for a few million apiece but there are three things they cannot erase. First, the fact that a Qatari ex-Premier tried to topple the Bahrain regime. He did it through Bahrain-based sleeping cells backed by Iran. Neither can they erase the fact that Doha sheltered leaders of extremist and terrorist outfits on their soil. And then bankrolled their dirty tricks. Plus, Doha’s men served as Iran’s ears and eyes in Yemen. All while fighting alongside the forces of Arab neighbours to contain Iran-backed trouble-makers.

Qatar should save their lobbying money and disconnect from Iran.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.