Donald Trump is not afraid of flying. Since taking office, he’s made it a habit to board Air Force One for back-and-forth weekend visits to his Mar-a-Lago Florida golf resort. But today, four months into his presidency, he takes off for his first overseas trip, with six international flights scheduled over eight days and an ambitious program that includes mending fences with the Saudis, restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, meeting Pope Francis and mingling with other world leaders in Brussels and at the G7 in Sicily.
After his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Trump will be flying to Israel. If the flight is direct, that alone could be a historic first. Elliott Abrams, a former senior official in the Bush and Reagan administrations, recalled in a recent podcast of the Council on Foreign Relations how complicated the Middle East can be. "It will be interesting to see when [Trump] takes off from Saudi Arabia whether he needs to make believe he’s flying to Jordan,” Abrams said, according to excerpts of the podcast in Israeli daily Haaretz. “And the reason I say that is I’ve been on flights with Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice that went from Israel to Saudi Arabia, and we had to almost land at Queen Alia Airport in Amman to make believe that we were, in fact, coming from Amman. I hope and assume that that kind of silliness has been dispensed with."
That will not be the only silliness that needs undoing.
On today’s first Saudi stop of the trip, Trump will reportedly try to repair the Islamophobic image he made for himself during last year’s presidential campaign, and take part in what is being described in Riyadh as a “historic meeting”. His National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Trump's speech would be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.”
It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump.
But surely money can’t buy everything. A series of diplomatic incidents over this past week have already cast a shadow on Trump’s visit to Israel, and on his aspiration to restart the peace process with the Palestinians: the issue of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (a campaign promise Trump is now putting off and will not announce during this visit); the status of the Western Wall, and not least of all, Trump’s leaking of classified information to the Russians that compromised a valuable Israeli intelligence source.
After Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, Trump heads to Europe, where his attitude has been viewed with serious suspicion since Day One of his administration, as the French economic daily Les Echos writes. France’s brand new 39-year-old president Emmanuel Macron is reportedly scheduled to have a “lengthy lunch” with Trump in Brussels.
Preparations on the Old Continent include a notable restriction at a NATO dinner that all speakers will be limited to two to four minutes to “avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span,” Foreign Policy magazine writes. “It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” one person who had been briefed on the summit arrangements told the magazine. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child.”