His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has just completed a highly successful visit to the United States. During the tour, the Amir held wide-ranging talks with President Donald Trump and other senior officials.
The visit, scheduled months beforehand, was undoubtedly important for Qatar’s leadership, who hail from a region that was once viewed as the most stable neighborhood in the Middle East. Today, with the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran, the ongoing war in Yemen, and the rift among the GCC member states, “stability” may not be the first word one would use to describe the Gulf. But that is why the alliance with Qatar is all the more important for the United States.
The Amir’s visit coincided with Washington’s increasingly volatile relationship with Tehran. Qatar hosts Al Udeid Air Base, from which the US planes in the Gulf take off, but Washington also needs a strategic diplomatic ally such as Qatar in the Gulf region right now that is in touch with the Iranian leadership and is capable of deescalating tensions between the two countries. Qatar has long positioned itself as a neutral peacemaker in international and domestic conflicts in the Middle East. It has built a successful portfolio and earned a reputation as a reliable intermediary, especially for the United States. The fact that Qatar, a small state, has earned this reputation has provoked other regional actors that hope to assume such a role.
Qatar today remains the Middle East’s most successful and visible mediator. This is for good reason. Qatar’s foreign policy over the past twenty years has given the small state the ability to position itself as an effective mediating actor between adversaries. It has avoided accumulating the baggage that most other regional actors have picked up which prevents them from assuming the reputation of successful peacemakers. Qatar has, through its mediation efforts, actively tried to bring peace and divert security spillovers from nearby conflicts that may ignite even more instability in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, mediation is one of the pillars of Qatar’s foreign policy and has been a key component of Qatar’s effort to bring peace and stability in a volatile region, with Qatar being the primary force in peacemaking in both Sudan and Lebanon in 2008.
In both countries, successful Qatari mediation was key to preventing further bloodshed. In Sudan, Qatari diplomats travelled from one remote village to another to foster communal trust and to end the ethnic conflict plaguing the Darfur region. And, in Lebanon, as the country inched ever closer to another bloody civil war in 2008, Qatar was able to convince the different sides -- and more importantly their foreign patrons -- to walk back from their 'intractable' positions.
The Amir’s visit to Washington DC came in the midst of the Afghan peace talks in Doha. The United States has sought Qatar as an intermediary in negotiations between the US, the Taliban, and the Afghan government since 2011. The US has long trusted Qatar as an ally, economic partner and host of 11,000 American troops at Al Udeid Air Base, while the Taliban has considered Qatar a worthwhile intermediary due to its neutrality in tensions between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. While facilitating these talks, Qatar has also embarked on the expansion of Al Udeid Air Base.
Qatar is undoubtedly a crucial and strategic ally for the United States in a turbulent and unpredictable region. And in the current climate of heightened tensions in the Gulf, it can be said that the United States needs Qatar’s friendship and expert diplomacy more than ever before.
*Haya Alwaleed al-Thani is a recent graduate from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, majoring in International Politics, minoring in Arabic with an accompanying research certificate in Arab and Regional Studies.