The reporting of the Gulf-Qatar conflict is generally insightful and of high quality. It is of higher quality than reporting on issues in which the U.S. has a direct stake, where preconceptions often dull analytical sharpness. In their absence, there is no inhibition to digging and listening.
But a few points could be highlighted still. To do so, let’s demote the concept of the quasi-person “nation” to “bag-with-a-tag” of people. Let’s stick with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, because these are the opposite poles of Gulf autocracy.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar contain many quasi-independent actors, individuals with such wealth that they are able to finance their own personal foreign policies. Some wealthy citizens of both countries have financial ties to terror activities. Since these people are not responsible for precision of thought to anyone other than themselves, some may not acknowledge, even to themselves, the ultimate destination of their money. Others may know exactly what they’re doing.
The Saudi phenomena was discussed in General Mattis; Iran continues to sponsor terrorism; Iran, Iran, Iran, when I wrote
Saudi Arabia does not officially tolerate terrorism. But there are many wealthy people, who are very astute in moving their money around, even in the presence of official controls. Don’t have a bank handy? We’ll start one. Need an investment vehicle that bypasses exchange controls? No problem. Moving and disguising wealth are almost common skills. Before achieving cultural modernity, Saudi Arabia became business-multinational.
Some of the plutocrats involved have blatantly western lifestyles. Out of country, some indulge those carnal pleasures such as can be bought with outré sums. Yet they feel the tug of conscience. They seek to make it right, as once in the west, indulgences were purchased. The expression, understandable by those who know, is “I like to give.” To what is left mysteriously indefinite.
The Saudi government has no official toleration for this. But in a “bag-with-a-tag” of people, which the upper echelons are attempting to move smoothly through a huge social change, it can’t be stopped, or the fragile consensus of a society in the process of modernizing would disintegrate.
The Qatari version of terror funding is more like a real estate free-for-all show where sheikhs listen to glossy presentations and open their checkbooks.
Since the U.S. has skin in the terror game, U.S. attitudes are inevitably skewed by the intrusion of the “should we or shouldn’t we tolerate…” question.
But in the Gulf versus Qatar dispute, our vision is temporarily clear. Since citizens of both countries are implicated in the same kinds of activities, and both have autocratic governments, what are the real issues? Is there a sectarian component? 10% of Qatari Muslims are Shia, and Qatar shares a gas field with Iran. But 15% of Saudi Muslims are Shia. In both countries, Shiites are excluded from power. Qatar doubtless views their Shia minority as potentially subversive and, with proximity to Iran, more immediately dangerous. Qatar is notably more tolerant of their large religious minorities, including Christian, but tolerance is bounded by brutal suppression. Qatar is an absolute monarchy that likes to experiment.
Under that absolute monarchy, Qatar has developed institutions of representation resembling, a little, those of western democracies. This contrasts with Saudi Arabia, where consensus is still reached the old way, in private, with tribes, and with the religious establishment. These are two different flavors of autocracy.
But both countries have cultural export products, and they are different. The Saudi export is the Wahhabi madrassa system, the human products of which constitute the large human reservoir of potential terrorists. The political sensitivity is suggested by (Independent) Home Office may not publish terrorist funding report amid claims it focuses on Saudi Arabia. The Home Office may have decided It would compromise cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the official level.
The madrassa system is an extension of the traditional, autocratic Saudi religious establishment, which happens to be an important pillar of Saudi government legitimacy. The Qatari mavericks have chosen a completely different export: Islamic pluralism!
This is Al Jazeera, which claims to report everything without bias. If you have a good bullshit detector, Al Jazeera is actually a useful source. It combines some very interesting and often unbiased reporting with a smorgasbord of sophisticated and crude propaganda. It’s a combination of playing it straight, random romp, and the sharp slant of somebody’s agenda. The biggest part of the Gulf grudge is Al Jazeera’s pimping the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it’s enough to power the grudge fest. Unlike the Saudi cultural export, the Brotherhood threatens standing Arab governments with revolution. It’s like the Illuminati myth, but for real.
This is the straightforward part of the conflict. The part that is really hard for us to understand is, since citizens of Saudi Arabia still fund terrorism, why does Saudi object to the same by Qatar? It’s the pot calling the kettle black. But let’s look at the carbon.
The Saudi government would like their cultural export to be correct and proper. The current state of Saudi society does not currently permit effective control to this end. The Qatari government looks the other way. Both nations fund terror, but with different styles. This seems like an excruciatingly small difference, but the issue at stake is one of extreme anxiety for both. To the Saudis, Qatar exercises no control.
Compare this to the control freak, who demands control of something, and then proceeds to do what the other person thought he was doing competently.
As with so many issues of nations, the details look like a personal squabble.