After 11/9 attacks, Charles Wald, a former commander of US Central Command Air Forces, helped the US Air Force opening Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to be in charge of all US Air Force personnel in the Middle East. It was a strategically advantageous site on the Persian Gulf that allowed American planes to get into position for operations in Afghanistan, a crucial mission in defense of the US.
But the dispute is not ended yet, and the US’s need for strategic posts in the Middle East is as great as ever, particularly as tensions with Iran mount and the Pentagon dispatches 1,000 more troops to the region. Though that number is down considerably from the 120,000 floated in May, it underscores how seriously the US needs to be able to address threats in the region, particularly those from Iran.
However, Al Udeid Air Base should be immediately closed if Qatar does not change its behavior. Doha has shown support for Iran, which has been the world’s foremost abetter of state-sponsored terrorism and ill-will in the Middle East. In the current situation, where Iran is accused of attacking foreign oil tankers and US drones and has announced it’s accelerating work on its nuclear program, Qatar must decide whether It can keep its US air base or its ties to Tehran.
Donald Trump has a golden chance to deliver this message when he hosts Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday. It is time to use the full force of the Oval Office to explain the dire consequences that Qatar could face for continuing its game of cozying up to countries on all sides of the Middle East’s volatile divides; it is time to decide which team it’s on. The US must maintain a military presence in hot spots throughout the world, and build alliances as a bulwark against terrorism.
This kind of alliances should be created, even only with partners that share our goals and objectives. It is necessary to reconsider whether Qatar is such a strategic partner. In addition to its troubling involvement with Iran, Qatar is a nation that has been accused of supporting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the principal architect behind the 9/11 attacks. It is a nation that has funded Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, Hamas, ISIS, Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Taliban.
The US has the influence when it comes to Qatar and the Al Udeid Air Base. Its Air Force has used that base for more than 17 years now. Qatar wants the base to remain, and has offered many inducements for it to stay. As important as the base clearly is to Qatar, the kingdom does not seem to realize that it is not critical to America. US military could easily expand to other regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE or even Jordan. Moving the forces currently based in Qatar is not nearly as difficult as one might think, and can be done relatively quickly and painlessly. America should not depend on a single base.
Finally, Trump must inform the emir that the US will stay and continue to invest in the Al Udeid Air Base if he rejoins the Gulf Cooperation Council and cut his ties with Iran.