Russia’s reprehensible invasion of Ukraine has made one thing clear: The global order is changing. An axis of repressive, authoritarian world powers — all with ties to Vladimir Putin — is growing bolder and more confident, and wants to see America’s influence decline.
It’s more important than ever for the United States and all liberty-minded Western nations to have dependable, moderate allies to counter Putin and his cronies. As policymakers look abroad to cultivate relationships, they shouldn’t overlook Qatar, a rising star on the world stage.
While some folks might have trouble locating Qatar on a map, millions of eyes are about to turn to the Arab nation. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November and December, having beat out the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea for the bid.
Hosting the World Cup will put the modern capital city of Doha in the limelight and further Qatar’s use of “sports diplomacy” to enhance cooperation, respect and tolerance among all nations. It will also elevate Qatar’s profile on the global stage, much as China used the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as its “coming out party.”
And there’s certainly good reason to pay attention to Qatar. Although smaller than Connecticut, it has the fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita in the world, and is the second-highest exporter of liquified natural gas. It is also home to thriving financial and tourism sectors, as well as the highly influential Al Jazeera media group.
Qatar has long cooperated with the United States and NATO in maintaining security in the Persian Gulf. When the West conducts air operations against Islamic State terrorists, Qatar has often provided space for staging zones.
After the United States withdrew from Afghanistan last year, Qatar helped to evacuate more than 40,000 civilians as the Taliban swiftly took over the country. Qatar has been such a reliable partner that the Biden administration recently designated it a major non-NATO ally.
Qatar played a pivotal role in supporting pro-democracy movements with financial and military resources during the Arab Spring. The country has backed youth, liberal, and conservative change movements working to implement democratic governance and advance liberty and justice.
Qatar has also proven itself able and willing to oppose Putin and his proxies. While Putin aided the reign of terror of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad during the Syrian civil war, it was Qatar that supported the rebels who opposed him.
Even more important than Qatar’s aid is its position as a top petroleum exporter. In a world where controlling the global supply of energy is of increasing strategic importance, Qatar may very well be able to deprive Putin of one of his greatest advantages over the West.
Europe’s dependence on Russian gas has long been a weakness. European nations rightfully sanctioned Russia for Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and in retaliation, Moscow is restricting energy supplies to the West. It is a terrible liability indeed that Europeans risk an energy crisis this winter for objecting to Russia’s murderous actions.
To make matters worse, OPEC, a cartel of oil producers (that includes Russia as a member) has promised to reduce oil production by two million barrels per day. And the recent sabotage of Nord Stream natural gas pipelines between Russia and Europe further exacerbates the West’s precarious position.
Western nations need to shift away from these manipulative governments and seek energy elsewhere. Qatar, which left OPEC in early 2019, can play a role in meeting Europe’s energy needs, and in so doing, weaken Putin’s grip over Europe.
While most of Qatar’s energy contracts were traditionally with Asian buyers, Qatar has stepped up exports to the West, and Western nations should keep courting the petroleum and natural gas-rich nation for future contracts. Continuing to rely on Russia and other OPEC members for energy is a recipe for disaster.
Washington may not agree with Doha on all issues, particularly its history of providing financial support to extremist groups. If such support still exists, Qatar should certainly rethink it. But that possibility should not stop the United States from courting Qatar as a friend and ally. The nation can play a vital role in countering Putin and his gang of illiberal authoritarians.
That includes Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who voiced his support of Putin “tak[ing] the helm” of Ukraine, even as the Iranian government violently cracks down on protesters.
It includes Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is committed to a “no limits” partnership with Putin.
And it includes Syria’s murderous dictator, Assad, who has long oppressed the people of my homeland.
Now is the time to build lasting ties with moderate nations. It’s time for the United States and its Western allies to strengthen ties with Qatar.
Dr. Tarek Kteleh is a practicing medical doctor and president of Rheumatology of Central Indiana. He is the author of The Six Pillars of Advocacy: Embrace Your Cause and Transform Lives.