This is late, but I had planned to discuss the first foreign trip Donald Trump took as president. I want to at least discuss this now as a lead-in to this week’s News Roundup because the first leg of the tour may have far-reaching implications.
Before, Mike Pence had traveled to Asia without incident, but that was no surprise. Trump’s trip, however, was eventful and in true Trump fashion, it was not without consequence.
His first stop was Saudi Arabia, where he participated in a few ceremonies and gave a speech in which he signified a closer relationship with the country and its closest allies in the region.
During his visit, Trump took part in a number of ceremonies, including taking part in the ardah. The ardah is “the traditional sword dance that desert tribes once performed before they went into battle.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also took part in the ceremony.
Trump also posed with a glowing orb in what was the most discussed photo op on the trip:
Much had been made about Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdl Fattah al-Sisi touching the glowing orb. To many users on social media, it looked like a group of supervillains enacting their master plan.
In all seriousness, the three leaders were marking the opening of the new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. By touching the globe, the three were marking the start of a video about the center. Over 50 Muslim leaders were in attendance.
The new center was founded with the purpose of monitoring potential terrorist threats and combating terrorist ideology with the help of experts. In particular, Saudi Arabia has vowed to help the United States combat Islamic State, which is often referred to Daesh in the Arab world.
On Sunday, May 21, Trump spoke to the heads of state in attendance in a speech with far-reaching implications.
Trump took positions in his speech that was similar to past presidents, but he seemed to take a cue from Rex Tillerson in saying he refused to pass judgment on the allies of the United States.
America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.
Most importantly, Trump excoriated Iran, accusing it of being a leading source for sectarian terrorism in the Middle East.
Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them.
But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran …
Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.
At the same time, he brushed over Saudi Arabia’s larger role in supporting terrorism and its own human rights record.
Before Trump set sail for his two-day visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United States and the KSA sealed a deal worth $350 billion over 10 years. Of that $350 billion, $110 billion immediately went to arms from the U.S. to the KSA. The deal was finalized during Trump’s visit.
There are also billions of dollars that will go to private American companies. Among those firms is Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor whose technology is part of the deal.
The weapons the U.S. sold to the Saudis are most likely going to be used in the ongoing war in Yemen. I have discussed before how that war is taking a toll on Yemeni civilians. The Saudis claim to be fighting against Houthi rebels, but aid routes are being cut off and the Saudis have bombed hospitals, schools, and farms.
Israel and the West Bank
This leg of the trip was relatively uneventful, but he arrived on Monday, May 22 with a large security detail. Also, the underlying stories and historical context are still important here.
Trump traveled to Israel under the guise of key disagreements. While Israel had hoped Trump would be friendlier to Israeli interests than the Obama administration had. For instance, Trump talked about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and having a “light touch” regarding the settlements. However, Trump has since stepped back some of those statements he made.
Also, while in Washington D.C., Trump had given some sensitive information to visiting Russian officials. Trump had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about intelligence about ISIS. Israel was believed to be the source of the intelligence and Trump’s claim to have clearance to give that information to anyone was dubious at best.
Regardless, Trump and his wife, Melania, were warmly welcomed in Israel. The couple had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Before the dinner, Trump visited the Western Wall — making him the first U.S. president to do so — where he left a message.
Later on, Trump visited Bethlehem, where he talked to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump expressed a desire to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, although such a prospect has beguiled past presidents.
Trump then went to lay a wreath at the Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Finally, he delivered a speech at the National Museum of Israel.
After visiting Israel and the West Bank, Trump traveled to the Vatican, where he met with Pope On Wednesday, May 24, Pope Francis held a private meeting with Trump and his family. However, it seemed the Pope was not happy to be in the same room as Trump.
By comparison, Pope Francis was all smiles when he met with President Obama.
But to be fair, there was at least one photo where the pontiff wore a smile. And he had a mixed photo shoot with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Next, Trump traveled to Brussels, where the 2017 NATO conference was held. The NATO conference was perhaps the most embarrassing part of Trump’s foreign trip due to his behavior and the reactions he elicited.
For starters, Trump made a fool out of himself in front of new French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump said Macro was “my guy,” although it was apparent to those paying attention to the French election that Trump at least gave his tacit support for the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Trump also tried to assert his manhood in a handshake (which did not go over well, since Macron was forewarned and thus prepared).
Trump tried it again, only to be foiled yet again.
One of the worst things Trump did was push Montegnegro’s leader, Prime Minister Duško Marković, aside:
Montenegro has just become the 29th member of NATO, by the way.
And to top things off, Trump gave a speech to the attendees, urging to “pay their fair share.” The speech was all over the place and it ignored some facts: Member nations are asked to dedicate 2% of their GDP towards defense, but that does not take effect until 2024.
The speech elicited laughter from the other leaders in attendance and a memorable look of disgust on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s face.
Trump’s foreign trip came to a close as he met Merkel and Macron once again in Sicily, Italy, as the leaders attended the G7 conference. Among those in attendance were leaders from the following countries:
- The United States
- Great Britain
The conference was notable because Trump took a golf cart along a 700-yard stretch while the other leaders made the trip on foot, after taking the customary group photo.
My Thoughts About Trump’s First Foreign Trip As President
While Trump’s team may have categorized the foreign trip as a success (of course), I have an overall negative view of it. As I mentioned before, his actions and words in Saudi Arabia have far-reaching implications. So does his NATO trip, albeit indirectly.
On the surface, I felt Trump embarrassed the United States (even more). He acted like a small child at Disney land or at least a class bully on a field trip. Although Trump may himself feel no shame, his unpredictable nature has our allies reconsidering how they relate to the United States. That puts us in a tenuous situation.
As it pertains to NATO, we have added yet another country to the alliance; that will only serve to increase tensions with Russia. This isn’t widely talked about, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev complied with the United States on the “final settlement with Germany” with the express promise that non-German NATO forces would not be stationed in the former German Democratic Republic. While Putin conflates the promise with the West saying it would not expand NATO past Germany, Gorbachev has expressed the expansion has at least broken the spirit of the agreement.
As it pertains to the Middle East, Trump may have inadvertently emboldened Saudi Arabia. I will talk about this in future posts, but after Trump’s visit, Qatar and Iran were immediately put in danger.
Associated Press/Reuters. “Trump joins ceremonial sword dance in Saudi Arabia – video.” The Guardian. 21 May 2017. Video. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/may/21/trump-joins-ceremonial-sword-dance-in-saudi-arabia-video>.
Beauchamp, Zack. “The hilarious Trump orb photo is a nearly perfect metaphor for his foreign policy.” Vox. 22 May 2017. Web. <https://www.vox.com/world/2017/5/22/15674782/trump-orb-what>.
Bondarenko, Veronika. “Here’s what the ‘glowing orb’ Trump touched in Saudi Arabia actually was.” Business Insider. 22 May 2017. Web. <http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-orb-globe-saudi-arabia-what-was-it-2017-5>.
CTVNews.ca Staff. “Smiles and scowls: Photos tell two stories of Trudeau’s visit with Pope Francis.” CTVNews. 29 May 2017. Web. <http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/smiles-and-scowls-photos-tell-two-stories-of-trudeau-s-visit-with-pope-francis-1.3434084>.
David, Javier E. “US-Saudi Arabia seal weapons deal worth nearly $110 billion immediately, $350 billion over 10 years.” CNBC. 20 May 2017. Web. <http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/20/us-saudi-arabia-seal-weapons-deal-worth-nearly-110-billion-as-trump-begins-visit.html>.
Dearden, Lizzie. “Ex-Israeli spy chief says Donald Trump should have consulted intelligence chiefs before passing classified information to Russia.” The Independent. 17 May 2017. Web. <http://independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-classified-information-latest-russia-secret-intelligence-israel-isis-laptop-ban-mossad-a7740481.html>.
“Full transcript: Trump’s speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit.” Politico. 21 May 2017. Web. <http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/21/full-transcript-trumps-speech-to-the-arab-islamic-american-summit-238654>.
Hounshell, Blake. “Donald of Arabia.” Politico. 21 May 2017. Web. <http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/21/donald-of-arabia-215170>.
McKernan, Beth. “Donald Trump in Bethlehem calls for the ‘obliteration’ of terrorism after Manchester Arena attack.” The Independent. 23 May 2017. Web. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/donald-trump-bethlehem-speech-terrorism-manchester-arena-attack-middle-east-leaders-israel-saudi-a7751161.html>.
McKernan, Bethan. “Israel lays on 10,000 extra police during Trump visit as Palestinian factions threaten ‘day of rage.’” The Independent. 22 May 2017. Web. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/donald-trump-foreign-tour-israel-10000-extra-police-palestinian-faction-day-of-rage-middle-east-a7749146.html>.
Nwanevu, Osita. “Pop Francis Doesn’t Seem to Like President Trump Very Much.” Slate. 24 May 2017. Web. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/05/29/a_nutso_white_house_statement_lauds_donald_trump_s_magnetic_personality.html>.
“‘You were my guy,’ Trump told Macron, French official says.” Reuters. 25 May 2017. Web. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-macron-campaign-idUSKBN18L2IY>.