Trump publicly insulted Pakistan. What was the point?

President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Dec. 20. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

WITH STREET protests raging in Iran and North Korea’s dictator appearing to offer a rare olive branch, President Trump chose to dedicate his first tweet of 2018 to . . . Pakistan. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the past 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit,” he virtually bellowed. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Not surprisingly, the outburst caught Pakistan’s elected government by surprise; emergency cabinet meetings and angry rebuttals from senior Pakistani officials soon followed.

Mr. Trump’s outburst was not completely out of the blue nor entirely unwarranted. He and other senior U.S. officials have been warning since last summer that Islamabad’s support for terrorists both in and outside Afghanistan was no longer tolerable, and the administration was already withholding $255 million in military aid to demonstrate its dissatisfaction. An article in the New York Times on Friday, before the tweet, said senior administration officials were recently incensed by the refusal of Pakistani officials to provide access to a captured operative of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network who was involved in the abduction of a Canadian-American family.

Still, the tweet triggered a question all too often asked about Mr. Trump’s public statements: What was the point? Was the public insult to the Pakistani government part of a carefully considered strategy for turning around an important but troubled foreign relationship — or simply an impulsive gesture? Given Mr. Trump’s record, the latter seems a safe bet. After all, in his previous tweet about Pakistan, in October, the president declared that his administration was “starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders.”



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