Here’s a video of John Oliver denouncing FIFA for putting the World Cup in Qatar, a place that uses slavery and abuses women and abuses LGBT people. It’s a video about how everyone else glosses over nasty truths. Oliver drags in Russia as a past World Cup host that abuses protesters, and even Saudi Arabia as a possible host in the distant future that commits all sorts of atrocities. My concern is not just that the U.S., as one of the planned hosts four years hence, gets a pass on its general behavior. My concern is that the U.S. has far outdone FIFA this year, and every year, in Qatar. The U.S. has put six things into that horrific little oil dictatorship, each of which is worse than the World Cup.
The first thing is a U.S. military base that funnels troops and weapons and U.S. weapons sales into Qatar, and oil into the United States, while helping to prop up an awful dictator and to involve Qatar in U.S. wars. The other five things are also U.S. military bases — bases used by the U.S. military — in Qatar. The U.S. keeps its own small number of troops in Qatar, but also arms, and trains, and even funds with U.S. tax dollars, the Qatari military, which bought almost a billion dollars of U.S. weapons last year. How, oh how, did John Oliver’s crack researchers not discover this? Even the U.S. bases and troops in Saudi Arabia, and the massive U.S. weapons sales to that brutal dictatorship, are apparently invisible. The bigger U.S. troop presence in nearby Bahrain goes unnoted. Likewise those in UAE and Oman. Same for all the U.S. bases and troops in Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and so on.
But imagine the video that could be made if the topic were permissible. The need to be able to quickly start wars all over the world no longer justifies the bases in the view of the U.S. military itself. And yet the bases persist, propping up friendly dictators who are viewed by the U.S. government as desirable to work with, exactly as FIFA is quoted as viewing Qatar in John Oliver’s video.
U.S. media outlets operate within a prescribed range, from the Wall Street Journal on one end over to things like John Oliver videos on the other. Criticism of the U.S. military or its wars or its foreign bases or its support for brutal dictatorships lies outside that range.
Two years ago, I wrote a book called “20 Dictators Currently Supported by the U.S.” I featured as one of the selected 20 a man still in power in Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This dictator was not alone in having been educated at Sherborne School (International College) and Harrow School, as well as the obligatory Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which “educated” at least five of the 20 dictators. He was made an officer in the Qatar military straight out of Sandhurst. In 2003 he became deputy commander-in-chief of the military. He had already qualified as heir to the throne by having a pulse and his elder brother not wanting the gig. His father had seized the throne from his grandfather in a French-supported military coup. The Emir has only three wives, only one of whom is his second cousin.
The Sheikh is a brutal dictator and a good buddy of the world’s top democracy spreaders. He has met with both Obama and Trump at the White House and was reportedly friends with Trump even prior to the latter’s election. At one Trump White House meeting, he agreed to an “economic partnership” with the United States that involves buying more products from Boeing, Gulfstream, Raytheon, and Chevron Phillips Chemical.
On January 31 of this year, according to the White House website:
“President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. met today with Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar. Together, they reaffirmed their mutual interest in promoting security and prosperity in the Gulf and broader Middle East region, ensuring the stability of global energy supplies, supporting the people of Afghanistan, and strengthening commercial and investment cooperation. The President and the Amir welcomed the signing of a $20 billion deal between Boeing and Qatar Airways Group, which will support tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs. In recognition of the strategic partnership between the United States and Qatar, which has deepened over the past 50 years, the President informed the Amir of his intention to designate Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally.”
Democracy is on the march!
Qatar has assisted the U.S. military (and the Canadian military) in various wars, including the Gulf War, the War on Iraq, and the War on Libya, as well as joining in the Saudi/U.S. war on Yemen. Qatar was not familiar with terrorism until a 2005 attack — that is to say, after its support for the destruction of Iraq. Qatar has also armed rebel/terrorist Islamist forces in Syria and Libya. Qatar has not always been a reliable enemy of Iran. So, demonization of its Emir in U.S. media in the lead-up to a new war is not beyond the realm of the imaginable, but for now he is a treasured friend and ally.
According to the U.S. State Department in 2018, “Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. . . . Human rights issues included criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on the freedom of movement for migrant workers’ travel abroad; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reports of forced labor that the government took steps to address.” Oh, well, as long as it took steps to address them!
Imagine what a difference it would make if U.S. media outlets stopped referring to the Qatari government and began referring to the U.S.-backed Qatari slave dictatorship. Why would such accuracy be so unwelcome? It’s not because the U.S. government cannot be criticized. It’s because the U.S. military and weapons dealers cannot be criticized. And that rule is so strictly enforced that it’s invisible.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include Leaving World War II Behind (2020), Curing Exceptionalism: What’s wrong with how we think about the United States? What can we do about it? (2018) and War Is A Lie (2010; 2nd Ed. 2016). He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and U.S. Peace Prize Recipient. Support David’s work.
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