Trump in the Middle East: Obama’s Unintentional Gift

With scandal after scandal paralyzing the Trump administration domestically, it was imperative for Donald Trump’s first foreign trip abroad to go smoothly. In the aftermath of Trump’s first stop in Saudi Arabia, it appears that some Middle East regimes are more than happy to oblige the current American President with flashy photo ops and special privileges based on the fact that he has none of the previous President’s priorities. In his article for National Review, Jonah Goldberg argues that Trump’s red carpet treatment from the Saudis had less to do with who Trump is, and far more to do with who Trump isn’t.

Noting all the ways in which Trump was lavished with attention upon arriving in Saudi Arabia (being greeted at the airport by the Arab King, having his face projected onto the side of a building, being called “…a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.” by the authoritarian leader of Egypt), Goldberg concludes that the Saudis appeared to favor an approach similar to the one suggested by New York Times reporter Peter Baker [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/world/middleeast/trump-saudi-arabia-foreign-trip.html]: “…no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country…Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign.”

Of these points, it is these final two which Goldberg believes are most important. Much like Trump, Goldberg argues that Barack Obama’s initial approach to the Middle East was hampered by his inexperience. Ultimately, welcoming a President who has no interest in negotiating with Iran and who seems more willing to intervene in the Syrian seems palatable for the Saudis and Israelis regardless of who that man is.
Goldberg also notes that Trump significantly stepped back his aggressive rhetoric from the campaign trail (slamming Saudi Arabia for its’ poor human rights record and for the role Saudi nationals played in orchestrating 9/11) to facilitate a more outwardly peaceful and cooperative visit. Trump’s address from the country explicitly made a note of saying that he “didn’t come to ‘lecture’ anybody” about human rights or democracy, in stark contrast to Obama’s interactions with the kingdom.

Through a combination of what some have argued was Obama’s weak foreign policy legacy and Trump’s own willingness to assume radically different opinions when it suits him, Jonah Goldberg argues that the embattled American President has turned the first leg of his foreign policy tour into a desperately needed PR win. However, the reporter also cautions that the President’s speech calling for “the destruction of terrorists…as if they were foreign invaders to be driven out of the swamp, not products of it.” indicates Trump has his own lessons to learn about conflict in the region. As Goldberg puts it: “Like the man who only has a hammer and therefore think every problem is a nail, Trump believes that the Middle East’s problems can be solved with terrific ‘deals.’” The memory of Obama may buy Donald Trump some goodwill for the present, but soon his own record will have to stand for itself.

Goldberg, Jonah. “The Middle East Welcomes Not President Obama.” Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2017, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-goldberg-trump-saudi-20170522-story.html. Accessed 26 May 2017.

Baker, Peter. “Tips for Leaders Meeting Trump: Keep It Short and Give Him a Win.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 May 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/world/middleeast/trump-saudi-arabia-foreign-trip.html. Accessed 1 June 2017.

 
 

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