President Trump made it clear during his official visit in Saudi Arabia that the United States would support the countries that are willing to fight extremists, which also meant an opportunity to improve the US ties with Turkey and Qatar. Both countries are home to important American military bases and Turkey is moreover a NATO member. However, both countries have been providing support to extremist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nusra front and the United States can no longer afford to let the two countries go in both directions.
President Trump has recently met with his Turkish counterpart and both cemented their commitment to the coalition against terrorism despite the numerous disagreements over the question of Syria’s Kurds or the fight against ISIS. Although both Turkey and Qatar have allowed the United States to use their military bases and airspace to fight the Islamists, they are merely helping out to solve the problems they had themselves helped generate.
The Turkish-Qatari ties deepened after President Erdogan came to power in 2002 and Qatari investment became a key source of capital for him. Their relationship further thrived following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings when both countries were aligned ideologically. When the leading Arab countries, such Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were strongly against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar threw their lot, as well as financing in Qatar’s case, behind the Brotherhood’s struggle for power in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.
The struggle with the Brotherhood is that it is far from moderate. It forms the ideological foundation that contemporary extremist Islamism is based on, depicting the West and particularly the United States as the lethal enemy of all Muslims. They have supported virulent anti-Semitism and endorsed suicide bombings. Yet, for the time being, Turkey and Qatar’s policies are backfiring. Both countries are increasingly seen as troublemakers and they are getting more isolated from the region’s other key players and the international community. However, there is still no sign of a strategic setback.
The Trump administration should now correct its policies towards both countries. In order to fight terrorism effectively, Washington needs to redefine the meaning of being America’s ally. We can no longer ignore the double standards when our proclaimed allies are actively backing the very forces we are trying hard to defeat.
‘Turkey & Qatar’s Support for Extremist Groups’ – Commentary by Svante E. Cornell and Lawrence Stutzriem – Institute for Security & Development Policy.
(The Commentary can be downloaded here)