With a Little Help From Our (Arab) Friends

This paraphrase from a song by the Beatles characterizes the important role played by the tiny Gulf sheikdom of Qatar (pop. 1.6 million) in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's late and unlamented dictator.

It was known that Qatar had supplied to the Libyan rebels diplomatic support, air support, weapons, training, and money; now, there is an admission that there were "hundreds of troops," according to Qatar's Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, in a statement on Al-Jazeera television on November 2. Qatar had previously confirmed that its airplanes had taken part in the NATO attacks but this was the first time the presence of troops had been officially confirmed. The planes -- six Mirage jets -- were sent in March. The troops -- some 200 in all -- began their operations by securing Benghazi airport. Gen. Hamad also stated that Qatar had offered to head a new alliance in support of Libya after NATO withdraws from the country.

Obviously, the use of ground troops by Qatar (and apparently a scattering of others) went beyond United Nations strictures against such use and incurred sharp Russian displeasure; it may well have been a factor in Russia's subsequent veto of a United Nations resolution calling for sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Qatar had been instrumental in persuading the Arab League to endorse an intervention in Libya, which the United Nations Security Council voted in two resolutions: Resolution 1970 on February 26 and Resolution 1973 on March 17. Qatar also became the first Arab country to recognize the rebels' Transitional National Council. A few other Arab countries lent diplomatic support and cash to the TNC -- including the United Arab Emirates in the former case and Kuwait in the latter.

Qatar is not simply a friend of the West, France in particular. It has the implicit protection of the United States, through the al Udeid U.S. Air Force base and Camp As Saliyeh, which is the largest American pre-positioning base outside the continental U.S.

But Qatar's Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has also had the ambition to become a behind-the-scenes kingmaker and mediator. In 2008, Qatar helped settle the Lebanese political impasse, and most recently it spurred the Arab League to propose a solution to the Syrian crisis.

But in the role of mediator, Qatar has acquired some strange bedfellows, including and especially in Libya. An Islamist fighting faction in Libya, the February 17 Katiba is reportedly receiving Qatari assistance. Abdul Hakim Belhaj, now the leading military figure in Tripoli and a former head of a Libyan jihadist group, also has a relationship with the Qatari's. And finally, the Internet is carrying footage of the devastating attacks on the last Gaddafi stronghold of Syrte, notably those carried out together by Qatari Special Forces and al Qaeda fighters.

Despite these cautionary tales about a jihadi presence in Libya (which is not new, incidentally), the country seems to be moving forward. A new Prime Minister, the Academic Abdel Rahim al-Kib, has been chosen by the TNC, and elections are to be held in a year's time.

Regardless of the future outcome in Libya, what has happened there illustrates a principle I have long pondered: whenever a hateful dictator is removed from the scene, whatever comes next can only be an improvement.