This is not going to end well.
President Donald Trump is again using Twitter to discuss sensitive foreign affairs issues — this time, on the unfolding diplomatic crisis between Qatar and several other Middle Eastern countries. Trump expressed support for the countries’ move to suspend diplomatic ties with Qatar, despite having praised Qatar as a “crucial strategic partner” just a few weeks ago.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump said he was glad to see that his visit to Saudi Arabia last month is paying off. He also called the suspension of ties with Qatar “the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” He conveniently ignored that Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, as well as the fact that he met with Qatar’s emir just two weeks ago.
Trump’s tweets are the first public statement he has made on Monday’s news that multiple states in the Middle East have suspended economic and diplomatic relations with Qatar. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt — as well as the internationally recognized (and Saudi-backed) government in Yemen, the Emirati-backed government in Eastern Libya, and the Maldives — all suspended ties with Qatar over its alleged support of extremist organizations in the region, as well as its cordial relations with Iran. They also cut all air, sea, and land links with the country.
Despite Trump’s attempt to take credit for the suspended ties — and to sell this as good news for the United States — the truth is that Trump never accused Qatar of promoting radical ideology in the region until his tweets on Monday.
In a speech on Islam and terrorism in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last month, Trump called Qatar “a crucial strategic partner” since it hosts the U.S. Central Command. During his trip, Trump also met separately with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and discussed the “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.”
“We are friends, we’ve been friends for a long time now, haven’t we?” Trump told reporters during the meeting with Al Thani. “Our relationship is extremely good, we have some very serious discussions right now going on, and one of the things that we will discuss is the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment, because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us, that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.”
The suspended ties between Qatar and the other Gulf Arab states breaks a long regional alliance and could also disrupt Trump’s foreign policy toward the Middle East. In his speech in Riyadh last month, Trump laid out a vision in which a unified Gulf Arab (and Sunni) front will counter both extremist threats in the region and a growing Iranian influence. That unified front now seems to be at risk — and Trump’s own tweets are fueling the crisis.
Qatar is also home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, a fact Trump didn’t acknowledge in his tweets. The Al Udeid Air Base, southwest of Doha, is home to about 11,000 U.S. military personnel and serves as a base for U.S. military flights to over 20 countries, including Iraq and Syria. The base is also home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC), and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF. A possible break in U.S.-Qatar relations — which Trump’s tweets seem to be signalling — would have massive impacts on the U.S. military and on the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda in the region.
It’s not clear that Trump coordinated with his diplomatic team before writing his tweets on Tuesday.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith emphasized the importance of Qatar as a U.S. ally in a series of tweets.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not take sides in the diplomatic crisis, but urged a unified Gulf Cooperation Council — the regional union that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and is threatened by the recent suspension of ties. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” he told reporters in Sydney on Monday. “If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC remain unified,” Tillerson said.
The Pentagon also has not sided with Trump’s comments on Qatar, and instead praised the country for its “enduring commitment to regional security” as well as its hosting of a U.S. air base. Asked how this policy fits with Trump’s tweets on Qatar, Pentagon Spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters “I can’t help you with that.”