The announcement that Ivanka Trump would speak at the Doha Forum in Qatar prompted a wave of speculation from the foreign policy community about what the US president’s daughter might be doing in the Gulf state.
Was it a sign to Saudi prince MBS? Could Jared be traveling with her? What about her father’s impeachment back home?
But while her mere presence sent a political signal, what actually happened was far stranger.
In a room packed with high-level officials from around the world, Trump answered admiring questions about her pet project advocating for women’s economic development from a spokesperson for her own government, who is also working on the project.
“One of the things that I love about what you’re doing to help women around the world is that you have tied economic security, global stability and countries national security interest with how they treat women,” began Morgan Ortagus, a current State Department spokesperson and former Fox News contributor.
The forum typically hosts tough interviews, and an array of senior leaders took hard questions before and after Trump spoke. Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu responded to allegations of war crimes committed by his government in Syria, and longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame was asked about term limits. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also sparred with an interviewer over impeachment.
But Ortagus pitched Trump a series of softball questions about her Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative and her impressions on recent trips to Morocco and Latin America.
Some of the questions:
- "You were able to put women's prosperity into the national security strategy. That was so important to me that you did that and I’d love for you to explain that.”
- ”Speaking of travels you’ve been in Morocco recently... Can you tell us more about the trip and highlights?”
- ”You also returned on a swing through Latin America with our Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Can you tell us about some of your impressions?”
- "What can everyone here that's representing the private sector do?"
- “With all of the successes of the initial launch what are you doing to ensure this lasts much beyond your time in the White House?”
The Women's Global Development Prosperity Initiative "sought to empower 50 million women by 2025 through three pillars,” Trump said, describing the Initiative, which aims to draw together all US government efforts to aid women around the world and has created a fund to launch public–private partnerships that support things like women’s entrepreneurship, vocational training, and access to credit and banking. Trump said the initiative builds on UN research showing the women’s involvement in peace initiatives and development projects makes those initiatives more likely to success in the long run.
“What can the countries represented here do to support you on Pillar Three [of your initiative]?" asked Ortagus, noting that Pillar Three (women enabled in the economy) was a foundational part of Trump’s initiative.
“It's us supporting each other,” replied Trump, magnanimously.
Trump hailed her “all of government” – and her father’s support for the project – as revolutionizing the way that women’s development initiatives are handled.
“All too often development assistance becomes more of an entitlement, and recipient countries don’t transition to self-reliance and ultimately to trading partners,” scolded Trump. “We believe one of the core reasons why that transition doesn’t happen is because women are oftentimes grossly underutilized in these societies.”
Trump’s presence in Doha at all was notable since the Trump Administration had largely avoided the forum last year in the midst of a near-war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both traditional US allies in the region. Trump had appeared to side with Saudi Arabia early in the conflict, but Brian Hook, the US State Department’s Special Representative for Iran, who was also at the conference along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, cast their presence as a tangible sign of the US push to de-escalate.
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson put it more bluntly, saying the “administration is trying to cover their tracks” and is recognizing that they may have made a mistake in isolating Qatar.
But if Ivanka Trump’s presence sent a signal, much of the chatter about her appearance was more about the questions than the answers.
"Even Vladimir Putin doesn't get interviewed by Dmitry Peskov," said a Russian journalist who was present at the event.
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