Trump Takes Perilous First Steps on World Stage

Donald Trump leaves a swirl of domestic woes behind to embark on a first foreign trip that will be closely watched in capitals the world over
Donald Trump waves as he boards an Air Force plane. (File Photo) Donald Trump waves as he boards an Air Force plane. (File Photo)

From Riyadh to Beit-ul-Muqaddas, Bethlehem, Rome, Brussels and Sicily, US President Donald Trump left a swirl of domestic woes behind on Friday to embark on a first foreign trip that will be closely watched in capitals the world over.

Trump’s extraordinarily dense first trip–six stops in eight days and countless face-to-face meetings from Saudi King Salman to Pope Francis via France’s new leader, Emmanuel Macron–is fraught with perils for the president, AFP reported.

The avalanche of revelations in the runup to his departure has eroded Trump’s standing at home where the parallels with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency are now being openly drawn.

They also revived questions about his ability to strike a presidential tone with his foreign counterparts.

“Truth is, nobody knows how Donald Trump is going to act or what he’s going to say in meetings of this kind because he’s never done it before,” summed up Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.

White House staff cast the 70-year-old’s “friendly but candid” style as an asset in his dealings with foreign leaders.

But as the Republican takes his first steps as head of state on the world stage, his every word, action and tweet will be under the microscope.

On foreign policy, the president has pulled back spectacularly from his most provocative campaign pledges, towards a stance in many respects similar to his predecessor Barack Obama.

But the real-estate magnate will still need to explain to foreign partners how his favorite slogan–”America First”–can be compatible with multilateralism.

“President Trump understands that America First does not mean American alone; to the contrary,” insisted his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.

Catchphrases aside, many questions remain unanswered.

During his two days in Riyadh, he will likely seek to strike a contrast with his Democratic predecessor Obama, who was widely viewed with suspicion by the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis–two men at odds on everything from climate change to refugee policy– remains highly unpredictable, although the pontiff says he will give America’s bullish leader an open-minded hearing.

Finally, his trip will wrap up in Europe where his shifting pronouncements on Brexit, NATO and the future of European Union have sown confusion among longstanding allies.

Trump will meet members of the North Atlantic alliance in Brussels, before heading on to a G7 summit in Taormina, a picturesque Sicilian town overlooking the Mediterranean.

“Does he invest in the relationship with the Atlantic partners in the same way that every president has done since Pearl Harbor?” wondered Charles Kupchan, former advisor to Obama.

“He came into office suggesting not. He has since said and done things suggesting maybe. But I think everyone will be watching for that.”


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