Dick-waving across the sands

Well, the Qataris seem to have upset some people, haven’t they?

It looks to me as though this is less about terrorism as two regional powers wrangling for influence. Thanks to its enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has for years been able to buy influence all over the world. e.g. funding madrasses housing extremist preachers, but also paying off governments to turn a blind eye to its rather questionable domestic, regional, and international policies. Iran has always squared off against Saudi for regional supremacy, but insofar as majority Sunni nations go, none of the others could come close to matching Saudi’s wealth and influence.

Then a couple of decades ago Qatar tripped over a giant unassociated gas field at the time LNG was becoming a big thing, and before too long we had Qataris popping up everywhere spending money and buying influence just as the Saudis did: Al-Jazeera media, Qatar Airways, the 2022 FIFA world cup, sponsorship of Barcelona football club, and the London Shard are among the most prominent of the little-known desert nation’s attempts to gain international recognition.

It has been obvious for a long time that Qatar had hoped to match Saudi Arabia in terms of buying influence and raising prestige abroad, and they were able to do so thanks to a much smaller population (2.2m versus Saudi’s 32m), which makes them much easier to buy off and/or control and leaves more surplus cash. Qatar also hoped to compete with Dubai as a regional hub where westerners can do business without feeling they are in a backward, oppressive shithole – as Abu Dhabi was also trying to do.

But like Saudi Arabia, Qatar has never quite been able to shake off accusations that it funds extremist groups and shelters terrorists. The Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was living in Doha when the Russians assassinated him, and rumours are always circulating that known terrorists are permitted to hide out in, or even operate out of, Qatar in return for ensuring the country isn’t attacked. I have no idea whether this is the case or not, and obviously I have no proof that Qatar sponsors terrorism, but I would not be in the least bit surprised if both were true, and I am quite certain that whatever Qatar is doing, Saudi Arabia has been doing the same thing for much longer.

Again like the Saudis,Qatar has managed to deflect most of the accusations by making sure they stand four-square alongside the Americans. ExxonMobil are heavily involved in the gigantic QatarGas II development, and have been the major international partner of Qatar Petroleum (the state oil and gas company) throughout the rise of the country’s LNG industry and subsequent enrichment. Whatever happens during this spat, we can be sure Rex Tillerson will know everyone involved on the Qatari side very well indeed.

Perhaps more importantly, Qatar is host to the biggest American military base in the Middle East. Something that rarely got mentioned in the discussions surrounding Al-Qa’eda and 9/11 is that Osama bin Laden’s primary motivation was his outrage at Saudi Arabia hosting American troops on its sacred soil during the first Gulf War, and subsequently keeping them there afterwards. The Saudis downplayed it, but the American army’s presence in their country was causing serious domestic resentment towards the ruling classes, but were more afraid of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. As soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of power in the Iraq War, the American forces departed for Qatar. This was an enormously significant shift – and one that serves as proof that Saddam Hussein’s neighbours genuinely thought him a threat, even if liberal journalists in New York didn’t. But it also shifted the balance of power in the Gulf towards Qatar and away from Saudi Arabia. With Qatar being America’s base in the region, it had some leverage with which to deflect criticism of its conduct.

I suspect that, following Trump’s successful visit to Riyadh and his warnings about Islamic terrorism, the Saudis have taken the opportunity to take their uppity minnow neighbour down a peg or two, bringing along Bahrain and the UAE for diplomatic support (who will also be quite happy to see Qatar’s progress hobbled). The Saudis will know they can’t force America to abandon Qatar, but they can point a few fingers, pretend to Trump that they are doing something about terrorism, and reassert themselves as the more responsible of the Sunni petro-states that poison global politics with their money.

When all of this blows over, as I’m sure it will, the Saudis hope they will have gained some prestige and Brownie points at the expense of Qatar, and deflected some criticism in the process. Despite this rift, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be firmly united in opposing whatever designs Iran has on the region (although apparently Qatari forces, whatever they were, are pulling out of Yemen).

All in all, it’s just your typical story of treacherous bastards in the Middle East trying to squeeze an inch in on one other.

Share

17 thoughts on “Dick-waving across the sands

  1. Perhaps it’s time for me to reread Larry Correia and Mike Kupari’s excellent modern day thriller Dead Six, which takes place in an alternative timeline middle east in a city that could be Doha or Dubai city. In there, an off the book American operation was basically assassinating the hell out of the terrorist cells based in the city while a thief was blackmailed into stealing something. Both set of operations kept on tripping over each other.

  2. ‘Twas said once upon a time that every time you filled your car with petrol (gas to our American friends) you were helping fund a terrorist to try to kill you. Now whether that terrorism was sponsored by Saudi upper crusts it is hard to say, but they have to do something with all that money…

  3. “All in all, it’s just your typical story of treacherous bastards in the Middle East trying to squeeze an inch in on one other.”

    Good read, I’ve always thought of the ME as low trust societies more interested in shafting each other than mutual cooperation.

    During my consulting career I managed to avoid the ME as it’s the only place I had no interest in visiting because I have close to zero respect for their culture. Mostly I avoided it because I was usually engaged in the Far East or self employed so I could turn down the work.

    One of my Asia clients offered me a kings ransom to work for them running a U.K. project that would mean being close to home but with some occasional trave to HK and China. It seemed a good idea after years of spending more time on planes than a BA pilot, until the daft buggers bought some telecoms assets in Saudis Arabia.

    When it all started to go tits up with them I was asked me to go and have a look and see what was wrong. Having taken the kings’ ransom I didn’t have much choice. All I can say is that it is worse than I imagined and is one fucked up country. Even the pious Egyptian I was working with thought it fucked up.

  4. KSA has been funding extreme Islam for decades.
    I worked in Indonesia and travelled widely. Cool.
    Now read this:
    A Shadow Falls, Andrew Beaty.
    Standard lefty anthropologist confronted with reality.

  5. It’s never black and white in the Gulf. Obviously a knock on from Trumps Riyadh speech and dealings, and the US recent reconfirmation of the targeting of the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat of the Shia Crescent. The last Qatari Emir abdicated within two hours of Morsi being overthrown, that was no coincidence, although the tie with the brotherhood obviously still remains. Qataris definitely have blood on their hands with state sponsored terrorism, lets face it every nation does and they are seen to be boxing above their weight by their peers, they also have more reason than Saudi to maintain relations and at least dialogue with Iran.

    It seems like a further crystallization of the axis of evil and the “you’re either with us, or against us” stance.

    Qataris neighbours do rely on its gas so the embargo surely cannot be allowed to last for too much longer. Then at least I can get some gear out of the country and on the road to Kuwait.

    http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2017/05/25/Former-US-defense-secretary-Qatar-welcomed-the-Muslim-Brotherhood-.html

  6. Qataris neighbours do rely on its gas so the embargo surely cannot be allowed to last for too much longer.

    I’m not sure how much the UAE actually depend on Qatar for gas, but they Dolphin pipeline does exist (and was fraught with problems as the two countries bickered).

    Then at least I can get some gear out of the country and on the road to Kuwait.

    I see the Kuwaits are sitting this one out. When I worked there I was told that during the Iran-Iraq war the country was split and each of the Shia/Sunni supplied funds to their respective “sides”.

  7. All I can say is that it is worse than I imagined and is one fucked up country.

    I managed to avoid Saudi Arabia, but I found the neighbours bad enough. The Omanis were a nice enough bunch, and the Kuwaitis better than their reputation.

  8. Perhaps it’s time for me to reread Larry Correia

    Either I really need to start reading this guy or my commenters are on commission.

  9. @Tim – liquefied gas as well as piped gas including Egypt. Its a matrix of issues but my view is that its mostly the Iranian and Brotherhood card that is at the fore. Its also a twist on the normal Shiite/Shia clash being the allegation that Qatar is in cahoots with Iran. Maybe the recently appointed CIA director for Iran Michael DÁndrea “The Undertaker” is off to a flying start.

    Gear stuck at land border, force majeure clauses being dusted off, if we have them!

    http://www.newsweek.com/cia-iran-chief-michael-dandrea-osama-bin-laden-619912

  10. liquefied gas as well as piped gas including Egypt.

    Ah yes, of course.

    Its a matrix of issues but my view is that its mostly the Iranian and Brotherhood card that is at the fore.

    The MB do seem to be being mentioned a lot on Twitter, yes.

  11. “The MB do seem to be being mentioned a lot on Twitter, yes.”

    Laurence of Arabia would be turning in his grave.

  12. Laurence of Arabia would be turning in his grave.

    I’m sure he’d have regretted kicking the Ottomans out of the Arabian peninsula the moment WWII ended.

  13. Nah, I really like his books. You may not like Dead Six, as 1/2 of it was written by Kupari when he was stationed in Kuwait. They swapped storyline on the online forum and it came out pretty good.

  14. Nah, I really like his books.

    I’ll give them a go for sure. Thanks for the heads-up!

  15. Well, it’s all a bit of a coincidence, but within a few days of Trump doing Saudi, this Qatar business kicks off, then this happens.

    As I said in today’s post, the Saudis are obviously feeling pumped from Trump’s latest visit. That’s about as far as it goes though, I’d say.

Comments are closed.