Successful First U.S. -Qatar Strategic Dialogue held in Washington D.C. for USMilitary.com 1/31/2019
It is always a humbling experience to visit our men and women in uniform serving our nation and preserving peace around the world. So too was my recent visit to the Al-Udaid military base in Qatar that represents the nerve center of American power projection in the Middle East. It is the largest overseas airbase, with close to 11,000 personnel, capable of handling any type of the U.S. Air Force aircrafts. Al-Udaid is the beacon of stability and it was rewarding to see our military leadership and base personnel in such high spirits, with unshakable determination to successfully carry on their everyday duties. And indeed, different types of our aircrafts are taking off every day, to various locations. Since its inception in 1942, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing is the largest and most diverse unit, and has been awarded with 10 distinguished flying crosses, 292 Bronze Stars, 1,035 Meritorious Service Medals, among other notable achievement awards. At the Al-Udaid base, there are currently 27 joint and coalition partners that work, live, and fly side by side, making this a truly global base. From 2002 to 2018, Al-Udaid experienced a significant build up and coming in the future, there will possibly be a more permanent build up.
This Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and the U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, hosted Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Qatari Defense Minister Dr. Khalid bin Muhammad al-Attiyah for the inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, reinforcing a strong partnership and longtime friendship between the two countries. Three documents were signed: The Memorandum of Understanding that established convention that this high level dialogue continues on annual basis, a joint declaration outlining the cooperation between the two countries on matters of shared regional and security interests, and the Memorandum of Understanding that creates a framework to combat human trafficking. Clearly, the blockade of Qatar by the GCC countries that started on June 5 last year, is not welcome news and everyone hopes tensions will defuse soon.
Qatar Blockade and GCC crises
The now nine month-long blockade has hampered naval counter-terrorist and maritime operations. Qatar has fast-tracked its military build-up, although some procurements, such as the Patriot Air Defense System, a contract awarded to U.S. Raytheon, and 12 more Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets (after buying 24 such jets in 2015) were planned before the blockade in Qatar?s effort to modernize its military capabilities which were rather modest only decade ago. A few years ago, Turkey offered to establish a military base in Qatar, making it wrong to assume Turkey?s recent military base in Qatar was a response to the GCC blockade. Certainly, the blockade helped speed up the process, and the close Muslim Brotherhood-connection between the countries? leaders helped (Turkey offered to establish a military base in Saudi Arabia as well, but the Kingdom rejected that offer).
Qatar has opted not to respond to the imposed blockade. Companies from the Gulf countries still operate in Qatar, including daily trading at Qatari Stock Market. Natural gas flows to Egypt and the UAE, as it did prior the blockade. Students from GCC countries studying in Doha are continuing their studies. If anything, the blockade has made Qatar more resilient, more focused and creative, looking for ways to reform and diversify many segments of its small yet highly modern society. The families separated across the region after the June 5 blockade, suffer the most. Those Qataris inter-married to people from Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia, or the Emirates, including their extended families, simply don?t know what to do.
No doubt, there is a serious and fervent political divide in the region; from those that pledged alliance to the Muslim Brotherhood ? a pan-Islamic organization that has produced much malice and suffering (especially in Libya and Egypt) – to those who support autocracy in fear of an ?Arab Spring 2.0.? and what that could bring to their nations when considering that transitions can be both slow and painful, and possibly devastating, as it was the case in Libya. There are no saints in the Middle East and various groups throughout the region support various radical and terrorist organizations. And that has to stop. But it has to stop everywhere.
There are many remedies that the countries in the Middle East can use (and enhance) to fight both home-grown and foreign terrorism: From seriously curbing corruption and creating better welfare for its citizens to reduce hopelessness, to pouring funds into education, banning hate speech, robustly engaging in reforms to attract FDI and in general, moving towards a more open, transparent, and free societies. Anything else, including blockades, are doomed to fail, sooner or later.