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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Tweeting the start of WWIII

by digby

I wrote about Trump's dangerous foreign policy tweeting for Salon this morning:

One reason it's important to have a president who is capable of reading foreign policy briefing books and listening to experts is not just that it increases their understanding of world affairs but also gives them a sense of caution about their own words and actions on the world stage. For the most part our presidents have taken this aspect of the job very seriously.

There are exceptions. Recall that on August 6, 2001, George W. Bush told his national security briefer, “all right, you’ve covered your ass, now” after he was told that that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike inside the United States." And then he went fishing. We know how that worked out.

From what he hear, Donald Trump is even less interested. Just before he took office he told Fox News' Chris Wallace, "I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years." We know he gets at least some briefings these days because he was able to spill the beans about some top secret Israeli intelligence to the Russian ambassador. Reuters reported that he has a very short attention span and requires all briefing memos to be single page and accompanied by visual aides. His advisers have found that if they put his name in as many paragraphs as possible they can entice him to read the whole thing.

His foreign trip made it obvious that he is way in over his head. There were lots of great visuals on the Saudi leg of the trip with everyone sword dancing and clutching glowing orbs. Conservative media swooned portraying the trip as a major breakthrough in which Trump single-handedly ended all bad blood among former rivals and brought the region together in peace and harmony. (Well, except for Iran which they all agreed to hate.) He didn't give any press conferences but he did give some speeches which were notable for what they didn't say rather than what they did. In Saudi Arabia he didn't mention human rights and at NATO headquarters he purposefully refused to endorse Article 5, the mutual defense pact at the heart of the alliance.

In the middle east, he sounded like a used car salesman trying to move surplus cars off the back lot with statements such as this one to the Emir of Qatar:

“We are friends, we’ve been friends for a long time now, haven’t we? 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.”
Imagine the surprise from the Emir to read these statements from Donald Trump yesterday:

Those were the first public statements made by the President of the United States since 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 suspended economic and diplomatic relations with Qatar. This was done on Monday ostensibly over Qatar's alleged support for Iran and terrorist organizations.

Always eager to pat himself on the back, Trump took "credit" in his statement for this crisis but seemed not to recall that on his trip he called Qatar a crucial strategic partner, which it is since it is the regional headquarters of the US Central Command with tens of thousands of American troops on the ground there.  His implication that the US is also going to break with Qatar would create an enormous military and strategic upheaval.

As usual the President didn't seem to have consulted with anyone before he issued his startling statements. The Pentagon praised Qatar for its "contribution to the security of the region" and for hosting the US Military and had no answer for the question of what in the world Trump was talking about.The ambassador to Qatar took to twitter to reassure the world that the US was still an ally. The Secretary of State urged the parties to sit down and try to work things out. 

If he had been able to keep his attention on the topic longer than a couple of minutes Trump would have learned that the disputes among these countries are far more complicated than Qatar's support for terrorism. (Saudi Arabia is hardly one to talk.) This article in the Washington Post  is from a few days before the announcement that these countries were cutting ties with Qatar and it explains the underlying conflict.

What is clear is that while Trump may have little understanding of the issues at stake, the players see a shift from the Obama administration's policy of working with the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) as a coalition to a focus on just Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, apparently largely based upon Jared Kushner having formed some personal relationships among the two country's leaders. They are taking advantage of the opening Trump has presented to change the balance of power in the region. 

The twist on the story is that this crisis was predicated on an alleged statement attributed to Qatar’s Emir Tamim on May 23 in which he supposedly praised Hamas and called Iran “a big power in the stabilization of the region.” Last night, CNN reported that US investigators suspect that this is a fake news report planted by Russian hackers on Qatar's state news agency. 

President Trump is the man who said the Israel-Palestine issue is "something that I think is frankly, maybe, not as difficult as people have thought over the years" and that "nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated" so he tends to see the world is extremely simple terms. It's too much to expect him to ever be able to understand the complexity of relationships between countries of the middle east. But it really isn't too much to ask that he not make ignorant statements via twitter about such important issues. One of these days it could be fatal.