Marc Lynch spells out 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 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.