Reporters are treating this as a mega-gotcha, proof of how chaotic and contradictory the White House messaging operation is. It’s not as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Watch Tillerson below and you’ll see that he’s careful to echo Trump’s point about Qatar’s softness on terror. He’s not whitewashing their behavior in suddenly calling for the end of Saudi Arabia’s blockade. He’s claiming that the tactic has turned counterproductive by threatening to injure Qatari citizens and to hobble Centcom’s fight against ISIS. “Qatar needs to do more against jihadism” and “the blockade is the wrong way to apply pressure” aren’t inconsistent. Even though that does leave the Secretary of State in the awkward position of demanding lighter treatment for a country whom the president is accusing of abetting terror.
On the other hand, three days ago Trump seemed pretty stoked about this whole “isolate Qatar” thing:
That’s a strange bit of triumphalism if State was destined to turn around days later and ask the Saudis to back down, but maybe Trump and Tillerson are playing a version of good cop/bad cop. Trump, the one with political skin in the game, gets to be tough and appealing by loudly denouncing terrorism, even when it comes from an ally that’s hosting thousands of U.S. troops. Tillerson is stuck with the more delicate diplomatic task of nudging the Saudis to step back so that America’s position stuck between two strategic allies doesn’t get more precarious.
Incidentally, an “unnamed source” conveniently told MSNBC yesterday that Trump may have publicly celebrated the blockade of Qatar because he simply doesn’t know that Centcom is based there. The White House says that’s nonsense, which is certainly true. (He mentioned U.S. servicemen in Qatar in a speech not long ago.) Even during a five-minute briefing on the situation, how long would it take U.S. intel to note the headaches this situation has created for the military? Eight seconds?
MOMENTS AGO: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes statement on Qatar. pic.twitter.com/XUev0Byeod
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 9, 2017
President Trump: We ask Qatar and other nations to do more to combat terrorism https://t.co/sYnQU7ZRIz
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 9, 2017