Here is the genius of Qatar, the peanut-sized Persian Gulf state that provides material support to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly some of Syria’s jihadist rebel groups, in a single image: A two-cheeked kiss, in public, between Qatar’s second-most powerful man, the prime minister (and foreign minister), Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, and Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire who funds, among other things, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution…

Qatar may also be the biggest exploiter of guest workers in the world. Of a population of roughly 1.9 million, almost 90 percent are migrant workers who, human-rights groups allege, are often treated with great cruelty by their employers and by the state. Qatar was recently chosen to host the 2022 World Cup, and it plans to use an army of exploited Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to build its new stadiums…

If it sounds as if I’m describing a miserable place, I am. I went to the dinner that night embarrassed on behalf of Brookings, which, like many institutions in Washington, shouldn’t be taking money from despotic Middle Eastern regimes, yet does. And the warm-up acts were indeed cringe-worthy. I can’t write about what was said, because these introductory remarks were summarily declared off the record, but suffice to say that various government officials who should have known better ventilated on the subject of Qatar’s magnificence with more than the minimally required sycophancy…

For a reality check, I spoke to two administration officials deeply engaged on the Syria question and on Qatar’s role in supporting the rebels. (They requested anonymity to speak freely.) They painted an unpretty picture. The officials were pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process, but they were flummoxed by its support for Hamas — which directly undermines the possibility of achieving an equitable two-state solution (Hamas being, as it is, opposed to Israel’s existence). They were also concerned that Qatar may be supporting the most radical Syrian group, the Nusra Front, which is openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.