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The Drone, the Secretary and the Seven Dwarfs

Finder’s Keepers, Losers Weepers.
-- A child’s saying

I hope Secretary of State Clinton is not too disappointed. If she’d asked me I could have told her how it was going to come out. Indeed, had someone reminded her of Qatar, she wouldn’t have even bothered to ask. The Qatar incident goes back to the mid-1980s and explains why Iran’s answer should have come as no surprise.

In 1985, a year when the United States was supporting the Afghan rebels led by Osama bin Laden instead of bombing them, the United States supplied the rebels with a bunch of Stinger missiles to use against the Soviet forces who were at that time engaged in the same kind of operation in Afghanistan in which the United States is now engaged. In 1987some of those missiles ended up in Iran. There were conflicting reports as to whether the Iranians bought them from the Afghan rebels who no longer needed them or whether the Iranians captured them in a cross border skirmish with Afghan forces. How they were obtained is irrelevant. Once Iran had them it could not get them to work. Accordingly Iran put the Stingers on Craig’s list and in 1988 they were purchased by the sheikdom of Qatar.

Qatar is not a very big country so a logical question is why did it need Stinger missiles? The answer is it needed them in order to defend itself from Bahrain. That is because in 1987 Bahrain bought 70 Stinger missiles from the United States to defend itself against Iran, a country that had been secretly armed by the Reagan administration during the Iran-Iraq war. Qatar was afraid that some day Bahrain might forget that the missiles it bought were to be used against Iran and might use them against Qatar. Qatar thought if it had Stingers they would help Bahrain remember against whom it was supposed to use the Stingers it had acquired and not accidentally use them against Qatar. (The Obama administration is about to decide whether to sell another $53 million in arms to Bahrain, a country ruled by a brutal despot who makes up for his shortcomings by give the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet a home. To date Qatar has not asked for an offsetting gift from the U.S.)


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In March 1988 Qatar had a really neat parade and one of the things the parade announcer told folks was that a missile that was in the parade was a Stinger missile. The purchase of Stinger missiles was then illegal under U.S. law (unless the U.S. was the vendor) and the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs told the Crown Prince of Qatar some months later that the United States wanted immediate access to the Stingers to see where they came from and wanted them back. Qatar demurred and as far as this writer knows, Qatar still has the Stingers. All of which is simply leading up to the latest kerfuffle over something Iran has that the United States wants.

In early December a stealth reconnaissance drone known as the “Bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel” landed in Iran. To the outside observer it is not known whether it crashed or was hijacked by Iranians. The administration has asked Iran to return the drone which is not much different from telling Qatar to return the Stinger missiles it bought on the open market. Some of the seven dwarfs seeking the Republican presidential nomination think it was silly to ask for the return of the drone. During a Fox News Republican debate Mr. Romney scoffed at what he called “Foreign policy based on ‘pretty please.’ You have to be kidding.” (He probably was unaware that that was what Mr. Reagan did when he learned Qatar had Stingers.)

Rick Perry also thought asking for them back was dumb. Of course his proposal was even dumber. He suggested destroying or capturing the drone in order to prevent Iran from obtaining sensitive information. He didn’t say how that was to be accomplished but he was probably contemplating a raid similar to the one that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death. The dumbest cluck of all, to no one’s surprise, came from Dick Cheney whose profound wisdom resulted in more than 100,000 Iraqis killed in the last 10 years, more than 4000 U.S military persons killed and more than 20,000 grievously wounded U.S. military persons and a highly unstable country. If that doesn’t establish his credentials as a great thinker it’s hard to know what would. He thinks that the fact that the drone was engaged in hostile activity over Iran’s sovereign territory is no reason for Iran to be churlish when asked to return it and suggested conducting an airstrike over Iran to destroy the drone. That would presumably not offend the Iranians who could easily have avoided such an airstrike by simply being polite and returning the drone to its rightful owners.

Since none of the proposals to retrieve the drone had a chance of success, it’s a good thing that the Secretary chose to simply request the return of the drone. The request did not start a war.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at

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