On Tuesday, President Donald Trump published a series of vehement statements on Twitter in response to the decision by seven Arab countries to abruptly cut off ties with Qatar. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!” Trump tweeted. “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!” (When told of the tweets, Trump’s fellow Republican, Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was reportedly left to ask who tweeted them, and when: “The president? When did that occur?”)
One can only imagine the Qatari reaction to Trump’s tweets. Whatever is being communicated to Doha privately by other U.S. officials, the president’s rant appears, at least on its face, to represent a major reorientation away from Qatar.
It’s not entirely clear what prompted Qatar’s neighbors to turn on it so swiftly. Reports suggest frustration with its support for certain Islamist groups, and some point specifically to an apparent billion-dollar payment made by the Qataris to an al-Qaeda affiliate and Iran, allegedly to free members of the royal family who were captured on a hunting trip. There’s even the suggestion that Russian hackers deliberately manufactured the crisis by planting fake news with Qatar’s state news agency. All in all, it’s hard to know exactly how to evaluate the breach, and thus gauge the appropriate American response to it, without knowing precisely what prompted it.