Here in Qatar, the assassination of Iran's Qassem Soleimani has been greeted with horrorby Anatol Lieven / January 29, 2020 / Leave a comment
Qatar is an interesting place from which to watch the latest crisis between the US and Iran—which is in turn mixed up with the bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which, in turn, contributed to the boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain. The US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, and the increased threat of war between the US and Iran, are regarded with horror here in Qatar; for obvious reasons, since we would be very much in the middle.
Qatar does not favour the expansion of Iranian influence in the region, but has to maintain good working relations with Iran because the two countries share a huge gas field underneath the Persian Gulf. Since the start of the boycott in 2017, Qatar also depends on Iran for an important part of its food supplies. However, by a very Middle Eastern paradox, Qatar also hosts the US air base at Al Udeid, the biggest in the region. Al Udeid would be key to any US attack on Iran, and a legitimate target of any Iranian response—which gives all of us here a strong additional reason to hope that no such attack will occur.
Teaching at the campus of a US university in Qatar also gives some interesting perspectives on the US role in the world. A large majority of my students come from the Arab Middle East and South Asia. It is fair to say that not one of those I have taught has believed that the US represents a “rule-based” or “liberal” order in the world, or is sincerely interested in spreading democracy and freedom. In this part of the world, unlike in Europe, there is nothing in the US historical record to encourage any such belief.
Despite Trump, there is still admiration for the US domestic system; but in its external behaviour it is seen as operating on the same moral plane as Russia and China, only more stupidly. And incidentally, while most people here greatly preferred Obama to Trump, even he did not convince them that the US was an innately good country in its international role; and since Obama’s time, US ally Saudi Arabia has become an even worse regional actor, with a record at least as bad as much-maligned…