The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg 'fesses up to having witnessed a loathesome event last week:
a two-cheeked kiss, in public, between Qatar’s second-most powerful man, the prime minister (and foreign minister), Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani (photo above), and Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire who funds, among other things, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
The kiss took place at a Brookings dinner last week in Washington that was convened to pay homage to Al Thani for his support -- because, yes, in addition to pledging $400 million to Hamas, Qatar also supports Brookings, one of Washington’s premier research groups.
... And as the kiss on Saban’s two cheeks suggests, Qatar sees nothing incongruous about maintaining open contacts with Israelis while funding an organization whose declared goal is killing Israelis.
Much, much worse, neither do Israelis/Brookings.
Goldberg goes on to thumbnail a few of the poisonous little despotism's noxious features: in addition to supporting Hamas, it also supports the Muslim Brotherhood and "possibly some of Syria's jihadist rebel groups." ("Possibly"?) It created Al Jazeera, Al Gore's fave, and it also "may be the biggest exploiter of guest workers in the world." Oh yes, since 2002, Qatar also hosts an immense American presence -- the forward position of CENTCOM (thank you, GWB.)
Back to the Brookings spectacle:
If it sounds as if I’m describing a miserable place [Qatar], I am. I went to the dinner that night embarrassed on behalf of Brookings, which, like many institutions in Washington, shouldn’t be taking money from despotic Middle Eastern regimes, yet does. And the warm-up acts were indeed cringe-worthy.
Brookings isn't advertising what Washington dignataries were at the dinner to warm up the crowd -- sounds more like lubricate the crowd -- in advance of Al Thani.
I can’t write about what was said, because these introductory remarks were summarily declared off the record, but suffice to say that various government officials who should have known better ventilated on the subject of Qatar’s magnificence with more than the minimally required sycophancy.
The main event -- a conversation between HBJ, as Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani is known, and Martin Indyk, a vice president and director of foreign policy at Brookings -- was more enlightening. When his turn came, Indyk (who is a friend of mine) asked HBJ a series of direct and uncomfortable questions that prompted answers so incredible they had many of the people in the audience not on Qatar’s payroll rolling their eyes.
Indyk’s next question touched on an even more sensitive subject: Qatar’s support for antigovernment Syrian Islamists, including those with direct ties to al-Qaeda. Again, the prime minister bobbed and weaved, eventually settling on a rhetorical strategy of blaming the U.S.: “We have to do more. The United States has to do more,” he said. “But later, don’t blame us, or you blame yourself, because it will be our mistake together not to intervene.” He ended by scolding his host: “So this rumor, again, it’s between families, which are sometimes jealous. Sometimes we tease each other. Don’t go to this business, Martin.”
Or else what? No word on how that ended -- or maybe "Martin" took the Qatari leader's cue and dropped the subject. Goldberg doesn't say. He continues:
For a reality check, I spoke to two administration officials deeply engaged on the Syria question and on Qatar’s role in supporting the rebels. (They requested anonymity to speak freely.) They painted an unpretty picture. The officials were pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process, but they were flummoxed by its support for Hamas -- which directly undermines the possibility of achieving an equitable two-state solution (Hamas being, as it is, opposed to Israel’s existence). They were also concerned that Qatar may be supporting the most radical Syrian group, the Nusra Front, which is openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Are these "administration officials" really as dumb as all that? What contradiction is there in pushing the "peace process," which only chips away at the underpinnings of Israeli survival, year by year, and supporting "rebels" in Syria? The Big Mo is all heading in the same direction. Meanwhile, as John Rosenthal points out here, the US may have listed Al Nusra as a terrorist organization, but we support the rest of the rebel groups -- who openly support Al Nusra.
Back to Goldberg:
In a meeting with the emir on April 23, President Barack Obama is said to have spoken in blunt terms about Qatar’s support for jihadists, and to have warned that Qatari backing of al-Qaeda-like groups would pose a direct challenge to the national-security interests of the U.S. The emir was said to have agreed with the president wholeheartedly on the matter.
He was also said to have suggested to the president that stories about Qatari two-timing were mere rumor.
And then they all slithered away.