Just days into his first trip as president overseas, Donald Trump is trying hard to reassure old allies while recovering from a series of political scandals at home.
Off to an unusual start, in typical Trump fashion, the commander-in-chief bypassed convention in opting to select Saudi Arabia as his first destination on an excursion that will take him from the oil-rich kingdoms of the Middle-East to Israel and Europe.
Cynical headlines, often authored by left-wing outlets, cast a certain air of skepticism on the president’s choices.
The firing of former FBI Director James Comey attracted a great deal of controversy in the United States, with liberal pundits wondering if an international trip would be sufficient to distract from rumors of his campaign’s collusion with Russia.
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Even before setting off for Riyadh, Donald Trump spouted off a series of angry Tweets, labeling himself as a victim of one of the greatest political witch hunts in American history. His self-pitying rhetoric – voiced at a Coast Guard commencement ceremony and online – stoked fears he might not be able to maintain a level head in Saudi Arabia.
Despite the failed passage of two executive orders which would have barred travel from seven – and later, in the revised version, six – Muslim-majority nations, Saudi Arabia wasn’t reserved in rolling out a royal welcome for the fledgling leader.
Denizens of the kingdom, interviewed by CNN and other news networks, seemed optimistic about Trump. Although his disparaging comments about Muslims still rang fresh, many viewed him as a preferable alternative to his predecessor, Barack Obama.
His visit included a speech on Islamic extremism as well as a $110 billion arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Now in Israel, President Trump defied some expectations by almost immediately broaching the subject of Palestine. In front of an Israeli delegation, he said it might be possible to align powerful sections of the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, against Shi’ite Iran – but only if Tel Aviv and its hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, are willing to broker “the ultimate deal.”
“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace,” Trump said outside of Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. “But we can only get that by working together. There is no other way.”
Trump’s words and lack thereof are likely to rub some Israelis the wrong way.
During his candidacy, Donald Trump was viewed as among the candidates most likely to offer unilateral military and political support to Israel – support which was maintained under Obama, though not enthusiastically. The past president had a notoriously frigid relationship with Netanyahu, pressing for a compromise with Palestinian authorities and openly criticizing the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted one another as “friends.”
The meeting comes days after President Trump was revealed to have shared critical and top-secret intelligence about the Islamic State’s chemical weapons capabilities, provided by Israel, with Russian officials.