In recent years, Qatar has become something of a mecca for international conferences, attracting a wide and diverse variety of global events to the small Arab state. It is therefore not surprising to see that this week, shortly before both the Pipeline Integrity Management Forum and the Underground Infrastructure and Deep Foundations Conference, the Libya contact group -- the gaggle of countries and international entities set up to provide "political direction" for the war effort -- will meet in Doha to discuss the evolving confrontation.
The only surprising thing about Qatar hosting this event is that it does so as one of the key protagonists in the conflict with Libya. Qatar has been unusually vocal for an Arab country of late, eschewing the typically conservative foreign policies of Gulf states. For example, after the international opprobrium died down in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, which forced Qatar to cut its ties to Israel, it has since tried to re-establish relations with the country, only to be rebuffed. Yet no one expected Qatar to send what probably amounts to the majority of its operational Air Force fighter wing -- four French-made Mirage jets -- to join in maintaining the no-fly zone over Libya.
So what on Earth is a tiny country the size of Connecticut doing waging war on a much bigger fellow Arab state thousands of miles away? Has Qatar gone crazy?
Hardly. In the minds of Doha's worldly leadership, Qatar's intervention makes perfect sense, for three broad reasons.
First, Qatar loves the limelight. Many of its policies over the past decade have been specifically designed to thrust the little-known country onto the international stage to publicize not only Qatar in and of itself, but a particular modern, business-savvy, and erudite brand thereof. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait (another small, rich country surrounded by far larger states) likely convinced Qatar that anonymity is not a desirable quality in the event of such a catastrophe. Any number of subsequent policies -- from funding Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel, to mediating in Lebanon to winning the 2022 World Cup hosting rights -- can be seen through this lens as promoting brand Qatar™.
Before the United Arab Emirates was, as some believe, pressured into deploying a section of its Air Force, Qatar was the sole literal and physical embodiment of tangible Arab support for the Libyan rebels. The Qatari emir drew genuflecting praise from the French, a nod from the British, and a warm thank-you call from U.S. President Barack Obama. Being owed a favor by some of the world's most powerful states is a good position to be in. As Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar's dual-hatted foreign minister and prime minister, noted when a U.S. dignitary thanked him for Qatar's $100 million gift in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, "We [Qatar] might have our own Katrina [one day]."