Beltway Briefing: Top stories from the US today

What do Mick Jagger and US voters have in common? | Are tax increases the answer? | Bachmann's boom

What do Mick Jagger and 84 per cent of Americans have in common? An absence of satisfaction. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 16 per cent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the US. This is a huge drop from the heady days of Summer 2009, as the Obama administration found its feet and a whopping 36 per cent of Americans were happy with the way the US was going. Those days, however, seem a long time ago, while the 2012 Election is getting ever closer.

The US is in trouble financially. Many have been quick to blame the deficit on bailouts, wars and general government profligacy. The main cause, however, is something more simple: falling tax receipts. As Ezra Klein points out:

Revenues right now are less than 15 percent of GDP -- a 50-year low, and well below the 19+% that historically accompanies balanced budgets.

The good news is that US citizens are "open" to tax increases. The bad news (from the Democratic point of view) is that most voters would prefer to see spending cuts first, according to the below Gallup poll. 32 per cent want to see a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises; 30 per cent want mostly spending cuts to solve the deficit, and 20 per cent want spending cuts alone.

Gallup

Bachmann's support may be slightly soft according to a Beltway Briefing earlier this week, but it is still on the up-swing, according to a new poll in the Des Moines Register. Politico spotted it:

Among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, the poll found Bachmann had 32 percent support, holding a statistically insignificant lead over Romney at 29 percent.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 7 percent; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had 6 percent; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 3 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 2 percent; retired Georgia businessman Herman Cain had 1 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had zero percent, the same as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

The big mo is currently all Bachmann's.

The campaign group Right Wing Watch have created a video splicing clips of potential presidential candidate, the Texan Governor Rick Perry speaking to the nation in amongst various homophobic, anti-abortion, right-wing clips from Confederate groups he has ties with.

Perry's broadcast asks his viewers to join their fellow Americans at a prayer rally because "things spiritual in nature" are needed more than ever in a world where people are "adrift in a sea of moral relativism". News comes today that Perry is being sued by a group of atheists and agnostics for what they view as a violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours – but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.