“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” U.S. President Donald Trump said last week, after several countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar over alleged connections to extremist groups.
Announcements of decisions to cut diplomatic ties began on June 5, following a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, attended by representatives of more than 50 mostly African and Middle Eastern countries, along with the U.S., in late May. At the Riyadh summit, Trump said he had an “extremely good” relationship with his “friend” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s ruling emir.
Nevertheless, “in the wake of that conference, nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior,” Trump said last Friday. “So we had a decision to make. Do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.”
Despite his public stance on Qatar last week, however, it appears that Trump would still like to count Al Thani among his friends, terrorism ties or not. You would at least be forgiven for getting that impression from the $12 billion deal to sell Qatar 36 F-15QA fighter jets that was signed on Wednesday, not even a week after Trump’s comments.
A member of Congress, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California), on Thursday questioned whether Trump was even aware of the deal, to which a State Department official reportedly responded, “I believe so.”
Lieu said the deal sent a mixed message, noting that “it is very confusing to world leaders [and] to members of Congress when the Trump administration does two exactly opposite things.”
The recent Qatar diplomatic crisis is not the first time Trump has controversially changed his mind, however. Nor is it the first such instance when it comes to U.S. relations with Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar’s much larger neighbor and one the countries to recently cut diplomatic ties with it, Saudi Arabia.
In late 2015, during his election campaign, Trump took to Twitter to accuse “Dopey Prince” Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi billionaire and royal family member, of attempting to influence American elected officials. “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected.
#Trump2016,” Trump wrote.
That tweet was reportedly a response to one of bin Talal’s, which called Trump “a disgrace” to the Republican Party and America, and which bin Talal later followed up with another taunt, saying he had “bailed [Trump] out twice.” After Trump’s election win last November, though, bin Talal changed his tune, offering his “congratulations & best wishes for your presidency” to Trump on Twitter.
The nature of Trump’s rivalry with bin Talal may be the kind of thing that requires inheriting obscene wealth to fully understand. Yet it doesn’t seem to approach the kind of grudge the president holds against his most hated enemies, such as Rosie O’Donnell. Trump has apparently forgiven “Dopey Prince” bin Talal.
While it may fall short of the $110 billion deal originally reported, the U.S. is apparently making aggressive efforts to finalize various arms sales to the Saudis, as Trump proclaimed with characteristic showmanship following a 22-minute spectacle of a signing ceremony for the agreement on May 20.
“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”