What we don’t know about Qatar and what we don’t know about key Senate races

August 5, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha

1. Inside Qatar:  the terrorists’ benefactor and America’s friend

As the war in Gaza continues, we keep hearing that one pipeline for negotiations with Hamas goes through Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich kingdom in the Gulf that has friendly relations with Hamas. In fact, Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas and provides financial support.

According to the online Times of Israel, “Qatar continues to fund the movement’s terror apparatus abroad, enabling tunnel digging and rocket launching.”

The United States, like Israel, has branded Hamas a terrorist group and, over the weekend, stepped up its criticism of the Qataris’ support of Hamas. Yet Washington maintains friendly relations with Qatar. The bond is so tight that the largest U.S. military base in the region is there.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah before the opening session of the Syrian Donors Conference at Bayan Palace in Kuwait CityIt’s through Qatar that the United States negotiated with the Taliban for the freedom of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Qatar was the go-between for the release of five high-value Taliban officers, who were being held captive at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl.

The freed Taliban fighters are now living in, yes, Qatar, where the Taliban’s leaders maintain an office and homes under Qatari protection.

We also know that Qatar has the highest per capita wealth of any country in the world, and it owns and finances Al Jazeera.

All of which should make us want to know a lot more.

What are the dynamics of the U.S. relationship with Qatar? How does that square with President George W. Bush’s famous proclamation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks — that countries which support or harbor terrorists will be treated like terrorists?

How does the Obama administration calibrate the value of having a pipeline to our enemies, not to mention a huge military installation in the middle of the world’s prime hotspot, against the inconsistency of maintaining such a friendly relationship with our enemies’ benefactors?

Why do the Qataris support these Islamic groups? Is it a way to buy peace and protection from them — at the same time that allowing the giant U.S. military presence hedges that bet?

Do we try to exert pressure on them to cut off financing to our enemies, or do we look the other way?

Susan Ziadeh, a career Foreign Service officer, is U.S. ambassador to Qatar. It would be great to see a profile of her and, better yet, get an on-the-ground account of how she navigates all these issues.

Is she involved in the Hamas negotiations? Does she ever deal directly, or even sit in the same room, with people from Hamas or the Taliban?

How does the Qatari legal system work?

Wikepedia says it “is a mixture of civil law and Islamic law. Shari’a (Islamic law) is one of the sources of Qatari legislation, and is applied to aspects of family law, inheritance and certain criminal acts.”

Is that true? What does that mean in practice?

This report in the New York Times last week about an American couple being held in the country on charges of endangering their child raises all kinds of questions about justice in Qatar.

More generally, what’s life like for the average citizen in the world’s richest country?

Which Western companies have major business interests there? How do they assess the risk that their governments might ultimately have to get tougher with their hosts?

Qatar’s intriguing and increasingly outsized role in the world begs for what would be all kinds of fascinating coverage.

2. Going deeper into the pivotal Senate elections:

Punditry abounds around the one or two dozen (depending on the pundit) critical elections that will determine whether the Republicans capture control of the  Senate this November. Some reporting has provided smart analysis of which races appear likely to turn one way or the other, providing win-loss combinations that lead or do not lead to a GOP takeover.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition "Road to Majority" reception in WashingtonWhat we’re still not seeing enough of, however, is reporting that does more than recap the latest polls and describe the candidates’ most recent attack ads. By now, I would have expected to see some great pieces from journalists on the ground, telling us not just what the voters in Alaska or North Carolina are seeing on television and hearing from the candidates but also what they are thinking and how they’re reacting.

We know that many Democrats are trying to distance themselves from their unpopular president. Is it working? How much do voters care if a candidate they voted for in past, such as Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), is in the same party as President Barack Obama?

National polls continue to show that more people disapprove than approve of Obamacare. But how is that playing in Kentucky, where the state-branded version of Obamacare, called Kynect, was so successfully launched that more than 10 percent of Kentuckians now have health insurance because of Obamacare that they did not have before?

How does that compare with the sentiment in Arkansas, which didn’t set up its own exchange and Obamacare did not enroll as many people proportionately?

Are women’s issues likely to end up helping the Democrats as much as predicted in the battleground states? How are new restrictions on voting in some states shaping up as factors?

Have the Republicans erased the gap in data analytics that seemed to help the Democrats so much in 2012? As a result, are their Senate candidates’ messages and get-out-the-vote efforts now as targeted as their opponents?

Which new candidates are breaking out of the pack and proving to be the most effective on the stump? Which ones are emerging as duds?


PHOTO (TOP): Secretary of State John Kerry (R) walks with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Sea Palace in Doha, June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah (L) before the opening session of the Syrian Donors Conference at Bayan Palace in Kuwait City, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition reception in Washington, June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas


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Nations like Saudi, Qatar and others, do deals with the devil by paying money to the various terror groups, because they know that if they don’t… they’ll come for them next. But now it’s so out of control, that even their money probably won’t save them.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

The piece on what we don’t know about Qatar and what we don’t know about the Senate races is really a piece about how far journalism has fallen over the last two or three decades.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

US to ally with a nomad state that still enslaves people is a big shame..

Posted by Lumberjet | Report as abusive

In America, we have a political system in the federal government that rewards politicians
with position and power based on “seniority”, not ability. Thus you have a patient with early stages of dementia as Senate Majority Leader, an oaf as Speaker of the House, and a Secretary of State that enjoys the pomp and ceremony of his position, but has no clue.

The President of the United States is often picked by their Party based on years of service, and so we got a Ford, and lost, a Dole, and lost, a McCain and lost, and, of course, a faux conservative and terrible actor, Mitt Romney.

Obama, of course, was a unique situation. An unknown, bright,”articulate and well-dressed blackman” as Biden described the man, he had what the radical left now in power in the old Democrat Party and it’s liberal wing, drooled over, A BLACK PRESIDENT. No matter his qualifications were zero; is political experience being “present”, his work experience as a Community Activist!”

I’m no historian by any stretch, but it seems that great powers decline more from internal decay and corruption, than defeat by a stronger nation. America is reaching that tipping point.

Posted by jaazee | Report as abusive