Democrats Urged to Attack Trump Over Support for 'Terror-funding' Qatar

As new line of foreign policy strategy, a consulting firm aligned with left-leaning Jewish groups is advising Democratic lawmakers to criticize Trump's support of Hamas-sponsoring Qatar

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War event with U.S. military veterans in Danang, Vietnam November 10, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Democrats on Capitol Hill are considering a new line of attack against the Trump administration, this time over its policy towards Qatar, the oil rich Gulf emirate known for its support of Hamas. A memo prepared by a Washington-based consulting firm, which has been sent to senior Democratic lawmakers this week, outlines a political strategy to negatively portray Trump's Qatar policy, in ways that would also involve arguments relating to Israel. 

The memo, titled "Emerging GOP Vulnerability on Terrorism, Iran and Israel," was written by Bluelight Strategies, a consulting firm that earlier this week helped launch a new national organization of Jewish Democrats. The same firm also worked earlier this year with opposition leaders in Qatar who are fighting against the country's current regime, and it is currently advising Jewish groups and Washington think-tanks that are frequent critics of Qatar. 

In the memo, the firm claims that while in recent years, Republicans have "tried to paint Democrats as anti-Israel, weak on Iran and weak on terrorism overall," Trump's policy regarding Qatar "has opened a significant vulnerability for Republicans, on which Democrats should move swiftly to fully exploit. That vulnerability is Qatar." 

After detailing Qatar's support for Hamas and its ties to Iran, and also quoting a U.S. Treasury official who accused the country in 2014 of "permissive jurisdiction for illicit financing of terrorist groups in Syria, including ISIS and al-Nusra," the memo then details some possible points of attack for Democrats regarding the Trump administration's policy on Qatar. 

 "In July, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson 'applauded' the leadership of Qatar in the Middle East," the memo states. "Secretary Tillerson traveled to Qatar again in October claiming the regime was making 'great progress' in combating terrorism despite no change in its support for Hamas." It also mentions that "Over the summer, the State Department announced it would sell Qatar $12 billion worth of new F-15 fighter aircraft.  And last week, the Department announced an additional $1.1 billion in military support." 

Bluelight Strategies also advised Democrats to focus on a statement by Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, who wrote to Congress recently that the United States was not aware of direct funding of Hamas by the Qatari government. Haley sent the letter after earlier this year stating, during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that Qatar was funding the Islamist terror organization. According to the memo, "In effect, the Trump administration is tacitly approving state sponsorship of Hamas — a terrorist organization controlled by Iran bent on the destruction of Israel." 

Under the headline "what Democrats should do?", the memo offers a number of paths for action. The first - "Speak out. The more the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are called out for embracing Hamas’ state sponsorship of terrorism, the more the message will penetrate." In addition, it recommends that Democrats work to block the arms sales to Qatar, use Congressional hearings to question members of the administration on the issue, and support terror victims' lawsuits in the United States that target Qatar over its funding of different terror organizations. 

It remains to be seen what effect this strategy will have on the discourse about Qatar on Capitol Hill, how much of it will actually be implemented by the Democrats, and what will be the response from Republicans. It should be noted that earlier this year, the policy towards Qatar seemed to be causing a split within the administration itself, with President Trump and some of his senior advisers taking a tough line towards the country and supporting the other Gulf states' aggressive blockade on it, as opposed to other officials - most notably Secretary Tillerson - who were advocating for dialogue and cooperation with Qatar.