Few recognize the extent to which the Turkey and Qatar alliance has enabled terror financiers to operate in not one but both jurisdictions. As with providing joint safe havens, Turkey’s and Qatar’s willful negligence on terror finance allows these financiers to act with impunity, by providing them a back-up base from which to operate should either Qatar or Turkey face pressure.
Qatar and Turkey have each hosted Islamist radicals that espouse an anti-American worldview and advocate armed conflict, extremist policies, or both. Moreover, the two have often collaborated in this regard; when either Ankara or Doha has come under foreign pressure to expel these radicals from its territory, the other has welcomed the expellees. This trend is particularly glaring in the cases of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
The combined Turkish-Qatari effort to bolster Islamist ideology, terror finance, and radical networks requires a concerted response by the United States to compel Ankara and Doha to curb their malign conduct. Washington should pursue a multipronged approach that involves its transatlantic allies and regional partners in pressuring both states to abandon the behavior that jeopardizes their long-term military cooperation with the United States.
- The U.S. Treasury Department should continue to sanction Turkey- and Qatar-based individuals and entities involved in terror and illicit finance. The U.S. government should urge both countries to take legal and administrative measures necessary to address the problem. The president should pressure the Turkish president and the Qatari emir to end their practice of allowing impunity for known terror financiers, crackdown on funding to terrorists that flows through their borders, and develop more robust domestic blacklists and enforcement methods.
- Washington should condition future high-level bilateral dialogue with Qatar on concrete and verifiable steps taken on terror finance. The United States should limit cabinet-level dialogue with Qatar until it takes steps to address Washington’s terror and illicit finance concerns.
- The U.S. government should urge Turkey and Qatar to cease propping up Islamist proxies in the Middle East and North Africa to the detriment of Western attempts to advance regional stability. If Ankara and Doha show no changes in their policies, the U.S. government should identify and designate Turkish and Qatari officials involved in sending funds or arms to Islamist proxies. This should include branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, as appropriate.
- The United States and its transatlantic allies should coordinate efforts to push back against hate-speech and incitement in the Turkish and Qatari state-owned and pro-government media. A good place to start would be to require Turkish and Qatari state-owned media to register as foreign agents, and to conduct public awareness campaigns to expose these governments’ funding for their media outlets. Washington and its allies should also join forces in supporting independent media outlets that allow the Turkish and Qatari publics to access critical news coverage.
- Washington should explore basing alternatives to U.S. bases in Turkey and Qatar to curb the ability of these two governments to use these bases as bargaining chips vis-à-vis the United States. The U.S. Department of Defense should begin studying basing options in other Gulf countries, with the goal of either downsizing or eradicating the U.S. military’s presence at Al-Udeid and Incirlik.
- While Turkey has already started receiving the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, Qatar is in the process of procuring it. The United States should use incentives and disincentives, including invoking the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which directs the president to levy sanctions on buyers of Russian defense equipment. President Trump should not hesitate to use these sanctions to discourage Qatar’s purchase and Turkey’s activation of the S-400 batteries and to encourage the procurement of military equipment made by NATO countries.
- The United States should support efforts to resolve the Gulf rift, but not on terms that would enable Qatar’s dangerous conduct to continue. Any resolution must include a compromise from Qatar on its support for extremism, backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, and other major areas of contention. The U.S. should not support any efforts that will not require concessions from Qatar on the aforementioned areas. Welcoming Qatar back into the Gulf, without a real change from Doha on its policy priorities, will be a temporary fix, at best.
Of course, if Turkey and Qatar change their behavior, then Washington should welcome them back into its fold. The United States should be prepared to offer inducements to Doha and Ankara if they exhibit good will and cease their malign activities.
- Reinstate Turkey into the F-35 program and offer the F-35 capability to Qatar. Both countries stand to reap the benefits of having the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world – if they turn the page on their anti-American behavior.
- Establish Al-Udeid as a permanent base. Qatar would stand to benefit even more from the U.S. security umbrella if the American presence at Al-Udeid were made permanent. The Pentagon can label Al-Udeid as a permanent overseas establishment if Qatar proves it has stopped working against U.S. interests.
- Support U.S. defense projects that involve joint production with, and technology transfer to, Turkey and Qatar.
The greatest benefit Ankara and Doha would reap by changing their malign policies would be burnishing their global image as permissive jurisdictions for illicit and terrorism finance. This would ameliorate their investment climate and help remedy their public diplomacy deficit. The United States should provide a roadmap for how to arrive there.