Pressed by establishment opinion, President Trump hesitates to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. As he applauds Saudi Arabia’s and its Gulf allies’ attempt to force Qatar to stop supporting terrorists, even his secretary of State not so subtly echoes the Establishment’s chorus that this is a bad idea. No one denies that whoever supports terrorism should stop doing so, that the state of Qatar in fact does support terrorists with billions of dollars, facilities, and a television network, and that the Muslim Brotherhood carries out terrorist acts directly and through affiliates. Hence the question imposes itself: how do opinions so contrary to reality and to the common sense of ordinary people acquire such power in high places?
The counterintuitive influence of Muslim Brotherhood/Qatar is yet another example of what Herman Kahn used to call ”educated incapacity” – the inability of a few, acquired only by sustained effort, to understand or even to perceive realities obvious to the unschooled many. Herewith, an examination of what it has taken for that influence to take hold. It is a story of how the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas and the Qatari state’s money have encouraged the professors, think-tankers and bureaucrats of America’s National Security State to foist upon America a peculiar set of values and priorities by indulging their own prejudices.
As President Trump was about to command the State Department to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Unite Arab Emirates had already done so), Foreign Policy magazine (March 3, 2017) and the Brookings Institution (April 11, 2017) published nearly identical articles. FP said that since “only some of the groups connected to the Muslim Brotherhood are engaged in violent activities,” identifying the entire MB complex with terrorism would “harm participation or Muslim groups in democratic processes.” That is why, it said, expert opinion is unanimous in rejecting the designation. Brookings also said expert opposition is unanimous: because the MB is “mainstream Islamist,” calling it a terrorist organization would tar all Islamists with extremism, and encourage “crackdowns” against them. It would be “a smokescreen for Islamophobia.”
After President Trump praised Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies’ cutting of diplomatic and commercial contact with Qatar to force it to end its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, among other terrorists, an adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told The New York Times that, while “The president is focused on ending terrorism; the secretary is focused on diplomacy that will return G.C.C. focus to fighting terrorism.” In other words: The U.S government – the President notwithstanding – far from helping to isolate Qatar, will focus on ending that isolation and hope that this will have a beneficial effect on fighting terrorism. Tillerson himself, while admitting that Qatar was supporting terrorism, made clear that this support was less important than the relationship itself. “Mr. Tillerson said the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, had made progress in cutting off funding to groups linked to terrorism. “But he must do more, and he must do it more quickly.” It was most important to “de-escalate the situation.” Translation: We would rather support a Qatar that does not support terrorism. But we’ll support it even though it does.
The veil that such as Foreign Policy magazine, Brookings, and the State Department cast over their choices and for values and priorities which trump (excuse the term) fighting terrorism is transparent. Sure, MB and Qatar also do things other than terrorism. But the salient fact is that the foreign policy Establishment prefers MB and Qatar, terrorism and all, to the alternatives thereto. The question for us is how they got there.
The answer lies in the confluence between the Progressive prejudices of the American foreign policy establishment and the material reinforcement thereof by Muslim regimes, particularly that of Qatar.
These prejudices are rooted in the moral foundations of the post WWII American security establishment, especially the CIA and State: American officials and their “bench” in academe and think tanks have been pleased to view themselves on the side of the world’s emerging peoples, as “the true revolutionaries,” who have the right and duty to lead and help their brethren – poorer but perhaps more virtuous because less tainted by the worst of the West. It is not too much of an exaggeration that these Americans founded the “Third World.” In fact, no “third world” movement I know of rose without American help. When Secretary of State John foster Dulles spoke to his brother Allen, then CIA director, about Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, he used to refer to him as “your colonel,” because Nasser owed his power to CIA help – especially because it brokered his alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. So much did Franz Fanon, the intellectual/moral patron of anti-Western Third Worldism depend on CIA that he ended his days in its care. No sooner did Yasser Arafat’s PLO begin its murderous career under Nasserite and Soviet sponsorship, than CIA and State committed U.S policy to the forlorn hope of weaning it and similar groups to respectability, notwithstanding their murder of U.S ambassadors – never mind children. In short, convincing the U.S foreign policy establishment to overlook terrorism for the sake of what they imagine to be greater goods was never a problem. As the U.S. ruling class’s intellectual/moral character moved ever farther leftward, it became preaching to the choir.
The U.S foreign policy establishment’s insistence on propitiating bad people arises also from its members’ presumption that they are entitled to interfere in other countries’ lives. When Leftists – and Neoconservatives too – discuss international affairs, they talk less about what America might gain from relations with foreigners than they do about how to manage events in foreign lands: who should govern where, what parties’ or movements’ fortunes should be fostered or hindered and how. Starting in the middle of WWII and for two generations thereafter, U.S foreign relations consisted substantially of playing sorcerers’ apprentice with all manner of socialists and nationalists. More recently, they have shifted interests but not behavior. The PLO owes its physical survival of the 1982 Lebanon War to American efforts. The Ayatollah Khomeini owes his triumph over the Shah in no small part to our State Department’s machinations. The 2011 “Arab Spring,” and especially the 2012-13 Muslim Brotherhood presidency in Egypt, happened as they did because of the U.S government’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In short, when foreign governments or movements want to mobilize the U.S foreign policy establishment on their causes’ behalf, there is no shortage of Americans to whom they can turn, confident of a friendly if not enthusiastic hearing. The money they pay is not bribery. It does not create incentives. It gains access to well disposed writers and gives them the means to do what they are disposed to do.
Qatar is one of the many entities that have capitalized on the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s predispositions to Progressive ideology and to meddling. Let us abstract from such crude influence-buying as the Qatari government’s gift of one million dollars to the Clinton Foundation on the occasion of Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday or the lucrative business connections. The list of Qatar’s contributions to the fountainheads of opinion on international affairs testifies to sound, long term judgment. Qatari operatives rightly regard these contributions, many deployed by their National Research Foundation, as having produced the political equivalent of strategically located military units. Texas A&M, dear to the Bush family’s hearts, has a branch in Doha and, as a partner of the National Foundation, helps designate grantees. Chains of grants to The University of Texas, to Baylor and to The University of North Texas help make sure that the influential people in the nation’s primary energy state will not lack hometown voices that understand Qatar’s points of view. Doha also hosts a branch of Virginia Commonwealth University, making it convenient for U.S government personnel stationed there to continue the degrees that bump up their credentials. Researchers at the University of Arizona (Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s state) get Qatari money, as do ones at the University of Illinois, of Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland Rutgers, Northeastern, Northwestern, – a total of 51. Then there is the U.S Qatar business council, headed by Patrick Theros, formerly the U.S ambassador to Qatar who, like other former U.S diplomats to oil-rich countries, is a living testament to the prosperity that comes from staying on the right side of a seemingly inexhaustible source of good deals. Dozens of Qatari-supported foundations, e.g. the Washington Institute, Brookings, reach countless more grantees.
Suffice it to say that ideas friendly to Qatari causes have no difficulty being heard in high places and that, hence, those who make U.S policy naturally regard the persons who express them as authoritative.
It remains for us to consider what this intelligently-conceived, well-financed apparatus is serving. Qatar is a gas-rich peninsula jutting into the southern Persian Gulf, with a population of 2.2 million mostly Sunni Arabs, only 300,000 of whom are citizens. The al Thani family, which has ruled it for decades, has used the country’s great wealth to pursue influence abroad in ways that are inherently incompatible. Tamim, the current emir, has taken that foreign policy to a point where the incompatibilities may no longer coexist. Two stand out: 1) Qatar hosts the al Udeid air base, whence the U.S launches air strikes against terrorists throughout the Middl East, and al Jazeera, the Muslim world’s most watched television station, which is, arguably, the biggest of terrorism’s inciters. 2) Qatar sponsors some of the fiercest groups fighting on the Sunni side of the worldwide Muslim civil war (including ISIS), while at the same time working with Iran, which leads and orchestrates the Shia side thereof. Quatar has its own foreign policy in Sudan and Yemen. Its only heartfelt commitment, if one can think in such terms regarding the Middle East, is with the Muslim Brotherhood, with its regimes in Turkey and Gaza, and with Egypt’s former MB regime.
The “Arab Spring” briefly fostered the dream of Muslim Brotherhood regimes ruling fromTunis to Cairo to Gaza to Ankara and maybe Damascus. Despite billions of Qatari dollars spent to elect and then to support MB forces in these places, and more to build up MB forces in the Syrian civil war, that dream vanished. Moreover, since the MB would not have been allowed power in Doha, never mind in Teheran, it is difficult to understand what the end-game of Qatari foreign policy might have been or might be. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt about what it has been, is, and that the emir has no intention of changing it. This, however makes it difficult to understand the reasons – other than the corruption outlined above – for the very substantial support that Qatari foreign policy enjoys in the U.S foreign policy Establishment.
Our Establishment’s present consuming concern in the Middle East is to end the embargo that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have placed on Qatar, focusing less on obtaining Qatari concessions than on obtaining Saudi acquiescence to the status quo. Don’t join ”team Saudi” warns a Wall Street Journal Sunday feature article. The authors, former Obama officials currently in Establishment holding patterns at Dartmouth and Amherst, don’t mention that Qatar is waging proxy wars against its neighbors in Syria and Libya, and that its relationship with Iran and Turkey are aimed squarely at these neighbors. Above all they do not mention that some of the very forces Qatar is financing are of the most anti American kind. Instead, they point out that Qatar’s neighbors oppose the Obama administration’s “deal” with Iran which, they say, “most members of the American and Israeli security establishments have come to see … as a significant boost for regional stability.” While this is false with regard to Israel, it is all too true about the Establishment of which the authors are part. Qatar, as the only Sunni state that has amicable relations with Shia Iran, is important to America, they say, because it helps undercut resistance to the Iran deal and because it offers the possibility of transcending the Sunni/Shia war. They do not ask to what end?
From this Establishment’s standpoint, the “stability” of which they see Qatar as the balance-wheel is just fine. By flying out of al Udeid, we Americans get to kill terrorists by the dozen. Never mind that, in the meanwhile, al Jazeera helps recruit them by the thousands. Moreover, we should continue to be so eager for Sunni and Shia to set aside their differences as not to care that they might do so, as the Qataris have been urging, on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ecumenical basis, by cutting American throats. In sum, Qatari investments in America’s foreign policy Establishment have paid good dividends; our investments, not so much.