While Donald Trump fired all U.S. ambassadors who had been directly appointed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, on the day he was inaugurated, the new president has nominated only 11 ambassadors after more than four months in office. There are nearly 190 ambassadorships.
Now one Obama administration holdover who remained in her post — a diplomat, not a political appointee — is publicly breaking with the president and signaling her frustration with Trump’s recent rush to take credit for the breakdown of relations between several Middle East nations.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt on Monday recalled their ambassadors from Qatar and closed all land, sea and air borders to the U.S.’s main military base in the Middle East. The state-run Saudi Press Agency said the move was being taken to protect “national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism” and accused Qatar of supporting ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
While tensions between Qatar and its Gulf state rivals have been present for years, it appears that U.S. allies in the region took a signal from Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia as carte blanche to take action.
"My suspicion is [they felt] emboldened by what Trump said on his visit and . . . that they feel they have got some kind of backing," a former U.S. official told Reuters. "I don’t know that they needed any more of a green light than they got in public."
Trump even tweeted as much on Tuesday, saying his trip to the Middle East is "already paying off":
It's curious, however, that during his recent trip to the region, Trump met one-on-one with the emir of Qatar and promised to sell the country “beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States."
Although the Qatari government appeared to have no immediate response to Trump's tweets, the U.S. ambassador for Qatar posted an embassy statement breaking with the president, saying, "US supports Qatar's efforts in combating terrorism financing, and appreciates its role in coalition against ISIL."
Dana Shell Smith, a career diplomat who began her Doha post in 2014, tweeted as follows:
During a press conference in New Zealand on Tuesday, even Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appeared to also break with his boss to bolster his State Department diplomat.
“We are hopeful that the parties can resolve this through dialogue, and we encourage that, that they do sit together and find a way to resolve whatever the differences are that have led to this decision,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson's and Smith’s public statements come one day after Trump’s acting ambassador to China announced his resignation following his telling his staff he could not defend Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Trump’s combative tweets in the wake of terror attacks in London over the weekend also sparked a reaction from the top U.S. diplomat to Britain. Lewis A. Lukens, the acting ambassador to the U.K., tweeted his support for the mayor of London after Trump criticized that city's response to the terrorism attack.