Given the news that the highly-touted US-Taliban peace deal is already collapsing, mere days after its signing, it’s time to take a closer look at the common thread uniting poorly brokered accords in the 21st century of US foreign policy. That common thread involves the United States and its allies utilizing Qatar as a mediator in facilitating international agreements.
Qatar has for years now assuaged critics of its extremist-friendly regime by proclaiming that it is a necessary intermediary for groups like the Taliban, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Republic of Iran and other extremist entities that consider themselves enemies of the West.
But it seems every time the United States and its allies rely on Qatar to mediate talks or an agreement with our adversaries, it’s our adversaries that come out on top. Qatar is a poor intermediary largely because it has a bias in favor of America’s enemies.
And history proves it.
Qatar played a prominent role in mediating between the many parties involved in the Arab Spring. This resulted in the toppling of US allied governments and the empowering of Islamists. Qatar played intermediary to the deal that saw the “Taliban Five” released in exchange for a US soldier. Once the Taliban Five made it to Qatar, the Taliban reneged on their commitment, brokered through Doha, not to take up activities against the United States. That’s just two of the many times in which the US got the short end of the deal.
As for the Taliban, ever since Doha became home to the Taliban’s political enterprise, the Qatari government has consistently treated the group like royalty. Taliban leaders live a lavish lifestyle in Doha, with free homes and an open checkbook from the ruling family. Qatar, as opposed to US allies elsewhere in the region, was the Taliban’s preferred destination for its political enterprise. Somehow, this raised no red flags, and the extremist group was accommodated with its base of operations in Qatar.
Now we can fast forward to February 29, the day of the US-Taliban agreement. Immediately thereafter, Taliban members took to the streets of Doha in celebration. They seemed to be declaring victory, while confused US diplomats looked on.
“This sense of celebration and victory spilled into the open Saturday as Taliban leaders and members staged a small parade in the streets of Qatar before the signing ceremony,” NBC reported from Doha.
The State Department lavished praise upon Qatar for its role in mediating the agreement.
“Left Qatar knowing that the world is a safer place, with solid progress towards a political settlement that will end the war in Afghanistan,” read a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Twitter account. “Thank you to Qatar and our allies and partners for their support of peace in Afghanistan.”
“Extremely grateful for Qatar’s support for Afghan peace and for facilitating talks,” read part of another statement from the secretary.
But what is it exactly that Qatar accomplished for the US side? Other than once again bamboozling US foreign policy makers, that remains unclear.
The agreement is perceived by the Taliban as a declaration of US surrender. The group seems to have entirely dismissed the fine points it has signed up to. There are many items in the deal that sound good on paper, such as its pledge to no longer do business with Al Qaeda. However, to the Taliban, it simply isn’t worth the weight of the paper it is written on. There will be no distancing itself from Al Qaeda, because they negotiated in bad faith, and the Qataris, well aware of this, were happy to play along. Signatures simply don’t matter to extremist regimes, and their current actions prove it.
More important to the Taliban was the signing ceremony, which included photos and videos of high-ranking US officials shaking hands with the same extremist leaders who had commanded armies responsible for the deaths of countless American soldiers. The photo-op was a priceless, propaganda coup for the Taliban.
Again, the agreement looks decent on paper. It includes a pledge to reduce violence over the long term, and a continuing ceasefire with Afghan government forces. Mere hours after signing the accord, news reports emerged of Taliban military units targeting Afghan army positions throughout the country. Moreover, the Taliban has released public statements that seem to contradict the agreement. It has become clear that the extremist outfit interprets the US-Taliban agreement as both a blank check to do whatever it wants and as a propaganda tool it can utilize to declare victory against the West.
The United States leaves Doha with little to show for these highly touted Afghanistan “peace talks” and agreements. The Qataris will continue to perpetuate the myth that it can play a role as an international intermediary, the Taliban got its propaganda victory and international legitimacy, and the State Department leaves Qatar empty handed, but for an agreement that is already being dismissed by the longtime Afghan warlords.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why we continue to come up short when Qatar facilitates our agreements. The rulers in Doha have an ideological bias in favor of our enemies.
Jordan Schachtel is an investigative journalist and foreign policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.