Qatar: Kingmakers in Syria?
Qatar: Kingmakers in Syria? My CNN article with Shashank Joshi on Qatar’s role in Syria expressing our take on Qatari motivations, capabilities, and limitations when it comes to intervention in Syria.
It used to be said that ‘when America sneezes, the world catches a cold’. In the new multipolar world, a new aphorism may be in order. For 2012, we propose: ‘when Qatar whispers, the tyrants whimper’.
Qatar has what Western powers lack in the Arab World: near-limitless reserves of disposable cash, a media network respected by Arab publics, and the ability to intervene with special forces and military trainers without risking tremendous blowback at home or in the court of international public opinion. Following their successes in Libya and buttressed by their expanding regional connections with ascendant Islamist movements and the new regional juggernaut Turkey, the Qataris have emerged as the quiet kingmakers. Alone, they cannot make things happen – but they can forge diplomatic coalitions, shape the popular narrative, and lend their unique skills to targeted interventions.
Qatar’s bold vision of involvement in post-Gadhafi Libya has already caused prominent figures in the National Transitional Council and the non-Islamist militias to speak out against Qatar’s meddling. The Arab League is also fundamentally divided. Two of Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon and Iraq, have no wish to go along with tougher measures – and could easily frustrate an embargo through their long land borders. Moreover, when Qatar has tried to broker peace deals in the Levant, as it did in Lebanon in 2008, more established regional powers were able to unravel the threads.
The Qataris seem to have mastered the role of agitators, facilitators, bankrollers, and power brokers – but punching so far above your weight can leave you perilously off balance.