It would be an audacious first foreign trip under the best of circumstances. These are not the best of circumstances.
President Trump heads to the Middle East and Europe with impossibly high expectations set from inside his own White House. He’s hoping to reset America’s relationship with friend and foe alike, setting the stage for Middle East peace, an end to Islamic terrorism, and worldwide acceptance of a brash new type of American leadership stance.
Trump travels with baggage as heavy as any president has brought with him on an initial journey off of US soil. That stems from incendiary campaign rhetoric –- particularly words directed toward Muslims -– and a widening series of overlapping scandals that have stoked staff turmoil and spooked Republicans in Congress.
Those scandals will develop in Capitol Hill hearing rooms and American newspapers next week, even while the president is multiple time zones away. Combine that with the possibility of gaffes and missteps by a still-green team, and the particular ability of Middle Eastern countries to draw offense at any perceived slight, and the president won’t even need Twitter to get himself in possible trouble.
The president’s nine-day, five-country trip will take him to the seat of three major religions as well as the heart of Europe, for his first major summits. He will confront fallout from the chaotic atmosphere he’s created back home at virtually every stop.
At his first stop, in Saudi Arabia, Trump will be face-to-face with leaders of 54 Islamic countries, and is expected to deliver a call to Islamic terrorism. The appearances will invite reminders of his campaign vow of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” plus the travel ban on those coming from majority-Muslim countries that he’s still fighting for in court.
Trump’s now-former national security adviser –- Michael Flynn, the man at the center of the Russia investigation -– famously called Islam a “vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people.” And Flynn’s work on behalf of the Turkish government has also drawn renewed scrutiny; that could set up some awkward meetings with the Turks and their neighbors.
Before he even gets to the Holy Land, the Israelis are smarting from a perceived slight over whether the Western Wall is part of Israel proper, and the news that Trump won’t be relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem any time soon. Plus, the intelligence information Trump is accused to giving to the Russians happened to come from Israel, according to numerous reports and as confirmed by ABC News.
Toward the end of the trip, Trump makes his first trip to a NATO summit. On the campaign trail, he famously called NATO “obsolete,” but last month he declared that he no longer believes that to be the case.
Yet for all those potential distractions, it’s as if administration officials envision the trip playing out in an alternate…