Another day, another foreign policy crisis created by our always insecure egomaniacal Twitter-troll-in-chief. Steve Benen explains, Trump makes Middle Eastern crisis worse with strange tweets:
When Donald Trump returned from his first overseas trip as president, he and his aides were quick to applaud themselves for a sojourn they described as a “historic” success. This was a trip for the ages, Trump World said. The stuff legends are made of. Ballads will someday be written to honor Trump’s nine-day journey.
If you asked the president and his aides why they were so impressed with themselves, they tended to point to Trump’s time in Saudi Arabia. Exactly two weeks ago today, a senior administration official, talking to reporters aboard Air Force One, declared with a straight face, “Donald Trump united the entire Muslim world in a way that it really hasn’t been in many years.”
Even at the time, the comments seemed almost delusional, but today, they’re even worse.
Yesterday, in an unexpected development, five Middle Eastern countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen – broke off ties with Qatar, hoping to isolate the country politically and economically. The countries said they were isolating Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism.
Wait, it is Saudi Arabia that is the sponsor of Wahabi fundamentalism, and was home to 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, who had financial support from highly placed Saudis according to the “28 pages” on Saudi involvement in the 9/11 terrorist assault. What We Know About Saudi Arabia’s Role in 9/11. Oddly enough, Trump’s immigration ban doesn’t include the country most of the 9/11 hijackers came from. Qatar, on the other hand, hosts the largest US military base in Mideast.
For the United States, this created a complex problem: Saudi Arabia is an American ally, but so is Qatar. With tensions running high, the U.S. State Department carefully offered to help mediate regional disagreements – the goal was for us to remain neutral – and the White House said it was eager to help “deescalate” the situation.
The president, however, woke up this morning with a very different idea.
President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Mr. Trump said in a morning tweet. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”
The American president added soon after, in a pair of tweets, “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
I realize that bizarre Trump tweets have become an unfortunate part of our political lives, but it’s important to realize that this morning’s presidential statements are among the most dangerous missives Trump has published to date.
This is a delicate and complex situation, but the core details, at least as they relate to us, are relatively straightforward: the United States has 10,000 troops stationed in Qatar, right now, and the president of the United States seems to have publicly endorsed Saudi Arabia and its allies isolating Qatar in rather dramatic ways.
This is, in other words, a diplomatic crisis, which Trump is making worse by failing to be diplomatic. The result not only puts a partnership at risk in the Middle East, but it creates unpredictable threats for American military personnel who are already in Qatar, wondering what’s about to happen as their Commander in Chief abandons the U.S. alliance with their host country.
What’s more, Trump started tweeting on the subject early this morning, in ways that suggest he was just sharing the first thoughts that came to his mind. In other words, the president’s messages weren’t coordinated with U.S. diplomatic and/or intelligence officials, and it’s very likely the tweets weren’t reviewed in advance by officials who understand the Middle Eastern crisis.
Trump just thought it’d be fun to freelance, without any meaningful appreciation for the consequences.
Sophia Tesfaye at Salon adds more details in Trump takes credit for Qatar’s rift with Saudi Arabia as American diplomats shudder:
While Donald Trump fired all U.S. Ambassadors who had been directly appointed by his predecessor Barack Obama on the day he was inaugurated, the president has nominated only 11 ambassadors after more than four months in office. There are nearly 190 ambassadorships. Now one Obama administration holdover who remained in her post — a diplomat, not a political appointee — is publicly breaking with the president and signaling her frustration with Trump’s recent rush to take credit for the breakdown of relations between several Middle East nations.
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While tensions between Qatar and its Gulf state rivals have been present for years, it appears that U.S. allies in the region took some signal from Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia as carte blanche to take action.
“My suspicion is (they felt) emboldened by what Trump said on his visit and . . . that they feel they have got some kind of backing,” a former U.S. official told Reuters. “I don’t know that they needed any more of a green light than they got in public.”
Trump even tweeted as much on Tuesday, saying his trip to the Middle East is “already paying off.”
Curiously, however, during his recent trip to the region, Trump met one-on-one with the emir of Qatar and promised to sell the country “beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States.”
Although the Qatari government appeared to have no immediate response to Trump’s tweet, the U.S. ambassador for Qatar posted an embassy statement breaking with the president to say that the “US supports Qatar’s efforts in combating terrorism financing, and appreciates its role in coalition against ISIL.”
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During a press conference in New Zealand on Tuesday, even Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, appeared to also break with his boss to bolster his state department diplomat.
“We are hopeful that the parties can resolve this through dialogue, and we encourage that, that they do sit together and find a way to resolve whatever the differences are that have led to this decision,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson and Smith’s public statements come one day after Trump’s acting ambassador to China announced his resignation after telling his staff he could not defend Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Trump’s combative tweets in the wake of terror attacks in London over the weekend have also drawn a division with the top U.S. diplomat to Britain.
We have a president who has gone rogue and is conducting foreign policy as a Twitter troll. If “all the president’s men” and his princess daughter cannot take that damn cell phone away from him, then Twitter needs to suspend his accounts and not allow him to post, for the safety and security of the world.
And about that Saudi arms deal that Trump has been bragging about: the Brookings Institute says the The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news:
Last month, President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and his administration announced that he had concluded a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom. Only problem is that there is no deal. It’s fake news.
I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.
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Finally, just as the arms deal is not what it was advertised, so is the much-hyped united Muslim campaign against terrorism. Instead, the Gulf states have turned on one of their own. Saudi Arabia has orchestrated a campaign to isolate Qatar. This weekend Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt broke relations with Qatar. Saudi allies like the Maldives and Yemen jumped on the bandwagon. Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar.
This is not the first such spat but it may be the most dangerous. The Saudis and their allies are eager to punish Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, for hosting Al-Jazeera, and keeping ties with Iran. Rather than a united front to contain Iran, the Riyadh summit’s outcome is exacerbating sectarian and political tensions in the region.
The one Saudi deal that is real: the Trump International Hotel received about $270,000 from a lobbying campaign tied to the government of Saudi Arabia last year, according to a filing submitted to the Justice Department last week. Trump DC Hotel Received $270,000 From Effort Linked To Saudi Arabia:
An executive with MSLGroup, Michael Petruzzello, told the Wall Street Journal that the payments to the Trump hotel were made by a subcontractor, which was reimbursed by Saudi Arabia. The payments were part of a campaign to bring veterans to Capitol Hill to lobby against JASTA, Petruzzello told the Wall Street Journal. He said that the payments were made between November 2016 and February 2017, and were made for the most part before Trump took office.
The Trump Organization told the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus that it would transfer profits from the payments linked to Saudi Arabia to the U.S. Treasury Department by the end of the year.
A watchdog group filed a lawsuit against Trump in January, arguing that by owning the hotel, he is violating the Emoluments Clause of the constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting payments from foreign governments. And Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, has said that the Trump Organization has not been actively tracking payments from foreign governments.