WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump escalated a spiraling Middle East crisis on Tuesday morning in tweets attacking Qatar, which hosts 10,000 American troops at the largest U.S. military base in the region.
Beginning a little after 8 a.m., the president put out three statements criticizing Qatar and praising neighboring countries ― including Saudi Arabia ― for their moves to isolate the nation in recent days.
The president’s new messages endorse the claims of Qatar’s neighbors, who have waged a years-long campaign to draw U.S. attention to their anxieties about Qatar’s links to political Islam. Emails obtained and authenticated by HuffPost last week show the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S. talking explicitly about shutting down the U.S. base and encouraging former Defense Secretary Bob Gates to publicly criticize Qatar.
U.S. officials have tried to avoid the appearance of picking a side in the dispute, which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and aligned nations say is over Qatar’s support for violent militants. (Qatar strongly denies the charges.) The Emirates has already taken a hard line, saying Qatar will need to make major concessions for it to re-establish normal ties with the country.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both expressed hope the tension would be resolved soon. The U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, said on Twitter that the country had made progress on blocking terror finance, and military officials said the American base, the hub of operations against the Islamic State group, was functioning normally.
Qatar’s defenders say it values its ties to Washington, has been cracking down on private citizens aiding extremists and is hardly the only Middle East nation to struggle with controlling extremist support. They note that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have both hosted radical preachers and terror funders.
Kuwait, an influential neighbor of the countries involved and a fellow U.S. partner, is now attempting to mediate. Though U.S. officials ― and the Trump administration in particular ― have seemed sympathetic to worries about Qatar’s links to Islamist politicians, Trump’s tweets on Tuesday signal that they are willing to actually help increase pressure on Qatar during this new crisis. Support from Washington will likely embolden the Emirates and other Qatar skeptics.
The president seems to be taking the matter personally, linking it to his high-profile trip to Saudi Arabia. Analysts say the regional tensions reveal that Trump had failed to meet his goal of rallying Muslim support around his agenda. “It demonstrates how superficial his achievements were,” Henri Barkey, a former State Department official and current Woodrow Wilson Center think tank expert, told HuffPost yesterday.