This column, a regular feature, was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Inside Qatar: The terrorists’ benefactor and America’s friend
As the war in Gaza continues, we keep hearing that one pipeline for negotiations with Hamas goes through Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich kingdom in the Gulf that has friendly relations with Hamas. In fact, Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas and provides financial support.
According to the online Times of Israel, “Qatar continues to fund the movement’s terror apparatus abroad, enabling tunnel digging and rocket launching.”
Yet, though the United States, like Israel, has branded Hamas a terrorist group (and over the weekend stepped up its criticism of the Qataris’ support of Hamas) Washington has friendly relations with Qatar. The bond is so tight that the largest U.S. military base in the region is there.
It’s through Qatar that the United States negotiated with the Taliban for the freedom of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Qatar was the go-between for the release of five high-value Taliban officers, who were being held captive at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl.
The freed Taliban fighters are now living in, yes, Qatar, where the Taliban’s leaders maintain an office and homes under Qatari protection.
We also know that Qatar has the highest per capita wealth of any country in the world, and it owns and finances Al Jazeera.
All of which should make us want to know a lot more.
What are the dynamics of the U.S. relationship with Qatar? How does that square with President George W. Bush’s famous proclamation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks — that countries which support or harbor terrorists will be treated like terrorists?
How does the Obama administration calibrate the value of having a pipeline to our enemies, not to mention a huge military installation in the middle of the world’s prime hotspot, against the inconsistency of maintaining such a friendly relationship with our enemies’ benefactors?
Why do the Qataris support these Islamic groups? Is it a way to buy peace and protection from them — at the same time that allowing the giant U.S. military presence hedges that bet?
Do we try to exert pressure on them to cut off financing to our enemies, or do we look the other way?
Susan Ziadeh, a career Foreign Service officer, is U.S. ambassador to Qatar. It would be great to see a profile of her and, better yet, get an on-the-ground account of how she navigates all these issues.
Is she involved in the Hamas negotiations? Does she ever deal directly, or even sit in the same room, with people from Hamas or the Taliban?
How does the Qatari legal system work?
Wikepedia says it “is a mixture of civil law and Islamic law. Shari’a (Islamic law) is one of the sources of Qatari legislation, and is applied to aspects of family law, inheritance and certain criminal acts.”
Is that true? What does that mean in practice?
This report in the New York Times last week about an American couple being held in the country on charges of endangering their child raises all kinds of questions about justice in Qatar.
More generally, what’s life like for the average citizen in the world’s richest country?
Which Western companies have major business interests there? How do they assess the risk that their governments might ultimately have to get tougher with their hosts?
Qatar’s intriguing and increasingly outsized role in the world begs for what would be all kinds of fascinating coverage.
2. Going deeper into the pivotal Senate elections:
Punditry abounds around the one or two dozen (depending on the pundit) critical elections that will determine whether the Republicans capture control of the Senate this November. Some reporting has provided smart analysis of which races appear likely to turn one way or the other, providing win-loss combinations that lead or do not lead to a GOP takeover.
What we’re still not seeing enough of, however, is reporting that does more than recap the latest polls and describe the candidates’ most recent attack ads. By now, I would have expected to see some great pieces from journalists on the ground, telling us not just what the voters in Alaska or North Carolina are seeing on television and hearing from the candidates but also what they are thinking and how they’re reacting.
We know that many Democrats are trying to distance themselves from their unpopular president. Is it working? How much do voters care if a candidate they voted for in past, such as Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), is in the same party as President Barack Obama?
National polls continue to show that more people disapprove than approve of Obamacare. But how is that playing in Kentucky, where the state-branded version of Obamacare, called Kynect, was so successfully launched that more than 10 percent of Kentuckians now have health insurance because of Obamacare that they did not have before?
How does that compare with the sentiment in Arkansas, which didn’t set up its own exchange and Obamacare did not enroll as many people proportionately?
Are women’s issues likely to end up helping the Democrats as much as predicted in the battleground states? How are new restrictions on voting in some states shaping up as factors?
Have the Republicans erased the gap in data analytics that seemed to help the Democrats so much in 2012? As a result, are their Senate candidates’ messages and get-out-the-vote efforts now as targeted as their opponents?
Which new candidates are breaking out of the pack and proving to be the most effective on the stump? Which ones are emerging as duds?