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.
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.
And why did he do this? Because the president is apparently desperate to congratulate himself. Note that Trump didn’t just take sides in a burgeoning conflict between two U.S. allies; he also did so in a way that’s supposed to reflect well on him personally: Qatar is being isolated, he said, because of his trip. The president’s efforts, he tweeted, are “paying off.”
Sometimes, Trump’s ignorance and recklessness sparks laughter. Other times, the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s doing is quite terrifying.