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The Confused U.S. Response to the Qatar Crisis

Marc Lynch spells out [1] some of the lessons to be learned from the Qatar crisis so far. He concludes:

Regional powers miscalculate the likely outcome of their policies with impressive frequency, a cautionary note for those hoping for the region to ride out the current turbulence. This makes the mixed messages from the Trump administration especially dangerous at a critical time in the Middle East.

One reason that the administration isn’t able to organize a coherent response to the crisis is that the coordination between the White House and his Cabinet officials continues to be poor or non-existent. Tillerson works on trying to find a compromise, and Trump says things that make the Saudi-led bloc believe that they can reject any compromise. The problem may be that Trump doesn’t understand that he is undermining and contradicting his own officials, and so he keeps making statements that conflict with theirs. The mixed messages from the administration continued this week [2] with Trump’s comments in an interview yesterday:

The US president in the same interview repeated his accusation against Qatar, that “they are being brought back in because they were known as funder of terrorism and we said that you can’t do that”. He defined the ultimate goal by saying, “We have to starve the beast, and the beast is terrorism, we can’t have wealthy countries funding that beast.”

Mr Trump’s comments differed sharply different from his secretary of state Rex Tillerson who called Qatar’s response “reasonable” in Doha this week. The US president said, “Rex is doing a terrific job but he and I had a little bit of a difference only in terms of tone.”

The trouble is that no one else thinks that the difference between Tillerson’s position and Trump’s is just one of “tone.” Administration officials have tried using this spin before, and it isn’t credible. There is a difference of tone, but there is also a significant disagreement between them about the wisdom and necessity of the campaign against Qatar, and everyone can see this except for Trump. The Trump administration can’t stop sending mixed messages about this crisis because the president doesn’t (can’t?) grasp that he has been creating confusion about the U.S. position from the start.

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10 Comments To "The Confused U.S. Response to the Qatar Crisis"

#1 Comment By Hyperion On July 14, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

DL wrote: The problem may be that Trump doesn’t understand that he is undermining and contradicting his own officials.

So how can someone be this dense?

Isn’t this just an oblique way of saying: The POTUS is an idiot. Not “may be”.

#2 Comment By RinTX On July 14, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

“We have to starve the beast, and the beast is terrorism, we can’t have wealthy countries funding that beast.”

Someone should tell Trump that the #1 wealthy country funding terrorism is Saudi Arabia.

#3 Comment By Hyperion On July 14, 2017 @ 6:23 pm

RinTX: The problem may be that Trump doesn’t understand anything about SA either.

#4 Comment By Clifford Story On July 14, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

I don’t think it’s a matter of Donnie undercutting Tillerson — the problem is that Donnie and Tillerson are pursuing substantially different policies. In a “normal” administration, Tillerson would lose his job for defying his boss, and isn’t firing people what Donnie is famous for? That he is apparently unable to control or sack Tillerson illustrates just how weak Donnie is.

#5 Comment By SF Bay On July 14, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

Clifford, Trump is weak for sure. Basically, a choker. And concerning, “the president doesn’t (can’t?) grasp that he has been creating confusion about the U.S. position from the start.” By now it’s pretty clear he can’t grasp any policy. However, he’s really good at the grab and pull. He’s a national embarrassment at this point.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 15, 2017 @ 4:53 am

‘Someone should tell Trump that the #1 wealthy country funding terrorism is Saudi Arabia.’

I am listening make your case.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 15, 2017 @ 11:54 am

Daniel L. Davis wrote “Why Victory in Mosul Is Overblown” for The National Interest. He discusses an important issue facing the Trump administration:

“The conditions that allowed ISIS (and Al Qaeda before it) to flourish still persist today. Killing legitimate enemies of the United States is a valid course of action when necessary, but even that is not a substitute for a strategy. The complex regional problem at the root of Middle Eastern violence is not something the United States can solve. Trying to do so has proven to be both expensive and ineffective. That’s why America isn’t ‘winning.’ It’s not because its tactics just aren’t right or because it has applied too little power to a given situation. America isn’t winning because it’s stubbornly using the wrong tactical instrument to solve the problem while avoiding sound strategy that might actually accomplish American objectives.”

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#8 Comment By rayray On July 15, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

Most of this is simple…Trump likes it when people make him feel good about himself. And the Saudis did that. The Saudis were involved in some Trump enterprises back in the 80’s and figured him out.

It’s hilarious to watch him in France, Macron has also quickly figured him out and is playing him like a fiddle – just in case you thought Macron wasn’t as smart as he appears…

Have we ever had a president this transparently vain and ignorant?

#9 Comment By Mark Thomason On July 15, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

Another way to look at this is that the US wants to have it both ways. That may be foolish, but it is exactly how we made such a mess of Iraq and Syria.

#10 Comment By Never Mind On July 16, 2017 @ 9:40 pm

A strange business that keeps getting stranger. You should read today’s WaPo story about how UAE hackers “sparked” the Gulf crisis with Qatar.

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