Tony Karon writes: Mindful of its declining appetite for projecting power in the Middle East, the U.S. is relying on more activist partners in the region such Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to arm the Syrian rebellion. But Tuesday’s visit to Gaza by Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani — to the delight of the territory’s Hamas rulers and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, while Israel and Fatah fumed — was a reminder that U.S. allies in the region often pursue goals quite different from those of Washington, despite many shared objectives and common enemies. And the relative decline of U.S. influence in the Middle East has seen some of those independently-minded allies grow more assertive in pressing their agendas.
In Monday’s presidential campaign foreign policy debate, Gov. Mitt Romney rejected U.S. military intervention in Syria, noting instead that “The Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks are … willing to work with us. We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the insurgents there are armed, and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties.” President Obama also talked up cooperation with regional allies, but warned that “we have to [make] absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.”
But the Emir’s visit to Gaza makes clear that Qatar, the tiny Emirate whose massive natural gas reserves give it the world’s highest per capita income as well as geopolitical punching power way above its weight, has sharply different ideas from Washington’s about just who the ”responsible parties” will be in a changing Middle East. Hamas, after all, is formally shunned by the U.S. and European powers as a terrorist organization, and Washington has shown little enthusiasm for efforts by Arab governments, including Qatar, to promote reconciliation between the Islamists and the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was reportedly furious at the Qatari leader’s decision to become the first foreign head of state to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza, effectively blessing the Islamist’ rule there. The Emir’s purpose was to inaugurate Qatar’s $400 billion investment in rebuilding infrastructure smashed in repeated confrontations with Israel — a massive stimulus to an economy choked off by a five-year siege imposed by Israel with Egyptian compliance. [Continue reading…]