Did Trump Torpedo U.S. Relations With Qatar on Twitter, of All Places?
President Donald Trump began his Tuesday like so many Americans do — by banging out a randomly capitalized rant before 8 a.m.
Less than 10 minutes later, Trump then sent out another such unfiltered message, a comment on Monday’s news that five Arab countries (six, if one counts the interim rival government of Libya) had broken diplomatic ties with Qatar.
Administration officials had played it cautiously the day before. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged Gulf countries to mend ties; Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the rift would not hurt U.S. coalition efforts in the fight against the Islamic State.
That’s when Trump tucked his knees and launched his diplomatic cannonball:
An hour later, he continued:
The Saudi line was indeed that ties were broken off in large part because Qatar funds terror groups, which Qatar denies. (Saudi Arabia, it should be noted, is also often accused of funding terror, and at any rate has spent decades underwriting the expansion of hardline Wahhabi Islam throughout the region and the world.)
The president seeming to clearly take sides in the diplomatic dustup — and on Twitter no less — might just undercut Tillerson’s offer to bring all parties back to the table together. He also implies that the diplomatic break was because of his conversation with Saudi authorities, which may or may not be true, but will probably not endear Trump to Qatar.
It also might hurt U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. Qatar and the United States cooperate militarily. Qatar hosts the Al Udeid air base, the centerpiece of U.S. Central Command in the region, and from which the United States launches airstrikes against the Islamic State. That led more than a few national security experts to wonder whether Trump had thought through throwing America’s lot in with Saudi Arabia and doing his level best to alienate Qatar.
Others speculated on the real reasons for Trump’s lashing out. Some suggested maybe it was payback for Qataris bailing out of Trump Tower and Trump International Hotel.
Either way, Trump’s tweets gobsmacked a staunch ally and one-time pick for secretary of state, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, the Pentagon praised Qatar for hosting the U.S. air base and for its “enduring commitment to regional security.”
“We continue to be grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support for our presence and their enduring commitment to regional security,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
The embassy of Qatar in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images
Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin