Michael Pregent on How Turkey, Qatar, and Iraq Are Exploiting Their U.S. Military Assets

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by Marilyn Stern

Michael Pregent, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former U.S. Army intelligence officer, spoke to a March 4 Middle East Forum Podcast (video). The following summarizes his comments:

In dealing with Turkey, Qatar, and Iraq — U.S. allies “in name only” because each “give[s] our adversaries advantage” — the Biden administration’s “weak foreign policy team” has “ceded” U.S. leverage to our “frenemies.” Although these countries take advantage of our military bases located in the region, “we should be able to use U.S. power to pause and change the minds of our adversaries, and we’re not doing that.”

Qatar presents itself as a mediator representing Washington’s interests in conflicts with regional adversaries. However, in each instance, Doha-brokered deals handed our adversaries an “advantage.” Qatar brokered on behalf of, and to the advantage of, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and it is currently negotiating on behalf of Hamas with Israel.

“[Qatar] cannot host a U.S. base and host Hamas leadership, fund terrorism, [and] foment violence” in the U.S. and abroad, or silence Israel experts in Washington think tanks since October 7 because of the billions it poured into D.C. institutions. A telling example is how Qatar shrewdly wields influence with U.S. politicians. Doha “injects economic stimulus into South Carolina,” and weeks later Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is “praising Qatar” as a mediator and ally while “condemning Saudi Arabia.”

Qatar speciously claims leverage on behalf of the U.S., but the only leverage Qatar has with any terrorist group it funds is “telling the terrorist group that they have leverage with U.S. politicians.” The U.S. should deny Qatar its “major U.S. non-NATO status” and threaten to sanction its key entities for funding Hamas. “The mere threat of U.S. disfavor from U.S. sanctions … would knock our frenemies back on their heels.”

C-17 Globemaster llls and KC-135s sit on the flightline Aug. 19, 2021, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah D. Coge

In Iraq, U.S. bases “cannot conduct attacks against militias inside of Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. had to launch a drone strike from the United Arab Emirates, not from Qatar or Turkey. Yet Washington would have leverage if it would exert smart power over Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri of Iraq’s Badr Corps. Both al-Maliki and al-Amiri know ahead of time when U.S. bases will be targeted. Threatening to impose sanctions on their assets would give them pause.

U.S. administrations that fail to threaten sanctions give our adversaries an advantage, as U.S. foreign policy failures since 2020 demonstrate. Our military in Iraq is defending itself against the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-backed Shia militias, and it ceded Afghanistan to the Taliban. The Biden administration squanders its leverage in Iraq to the Iranian regime and to the Iranian-sponsored militias that endanger American troops. If “we can’t be tough with our allies, we are certainly not [going to be] tough with our enemies.”

Turkey, “a NATO ally,” continues to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil and undermines U.S. interests by empowering Moscow with technology Russia uses in its war against Ukraine. Hamas’s leaders, fearful of being targeted by the Israel in Qatar, relocated to Turkey. Turkey’s president Erdoğan taunts Israel with repercussions if it dares to make good on its threat to target Hamas leaders while ignoring the dual-citizen Americans who are still held hostage in Gaza. The “Biden/Obama foreign policy team” eschews using the “levers of power” to gain the advantage for the U.S. Instead, it pressures Israel to agree to a ceasefire.

When it comes to gathering and assessing intelligence, the administration is stuck in a “Cold War mentality that the only proof is an intercepted phone call between two leaders.” But today, that’s not how it happens anymore.” Instead, intelligence is gathered via monitoring the chatter and in-person meetings. Hamas commandos were trained in Iran, Hamas officers by Qatari police, and Hamas and IRGC officials met in Beirut two weeks before October 7 — “you have to see all the things that are in front of you.”

The U.S. military bases in Qatar and Turkey are unnecessary. Our air base in Qatar was built for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are over. It can now be moved to Bahrain or Dubai. In Turkey, during the invasion of Iraq in Desert Storm and during the ISIS campaign, the U.S. was unable to use the Incirlik air base.

Our air base in Qatar was built for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are over. It can now be moved to Bahrain or Dubai.

Given Erdoğan’s animus towards U.S. interests, Turkey should be disqualified from voting on whether to allow a member into NATO, “especially under Erdoğan.” Under both the Trump and Biden administrations, Turkey was allowed to skirt sanctions because the U.S. feared Turkey would lean towards Russia and China. “Until they are told they can’t” skirt sanctions, Turkey, Qatar, and Iraq will continue to have the advantage.

In the current election year, the Iranian-backed Houthis are “testing red lines” by firing missiles and conducting drone strikes on global shipping traversing the Bab al-Mandab strait. IRGC and Hezbollah advisors on the ground in Yemen enable the Houthis to launch attacks and are designated by the U.S. as legitimate targets. The U.S. should eliminate two targeting platforms, the Iran-linked Saviz and Behshad cargo ships. Once those are destroyed, Houthi missiles that strike Russian and Chinese flag vessels will result in “immense pressure” from these countries on Tehran to “shut down” the Houthis.

At present, our adversaries believe they have a “green light” to get away with as much as they can. “The U.S. needs to send a strong signal,” and U.S. Army Commander, General Kurilla, “a force,” could communicate to Iran that the U.S. will “target high-value targets” unless the regime reins in its proxies. “When Iran feels pain, this will stop, and Iran has not felt pain yet.”




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