Trump has waited longer to go on his first foreign trip than any president since Lyndon Johnson:
The trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican is a splashy debut for a president who has, until now, largely avoided major trips outside of Washington.
He’s spent most of his time away from the White House at his private estate in Florida. When he arrives in the Middle East toward the end of May, he’ll be traveling abroad later in his presidency than any commander in chief since Lyndon B. Johnson, who waited more than 10 months after President John F. Kennedy was killed to travel abroad.
Visiting Saudi Arabia and Israel doesn’t seem all that “splashy” (it is drearily predictable), but it is telling that these are the two countries Trump is choosing to visit as president before any other. Both have increasingly become liabilities for the U.S. and contribute little or nothing to our security, which underscores how meaningless Trump’s “America first” rhetoric always was. The relationship with the Saudis has most recently involved the U.S. in a shameful, unnecessary war in Yemen that has benefited no one except the local Al Qaeda affiliate. Making Riyadh the first place that Trump goes abroad as president is not really surprising when we remember that this administration has already been increasing support to the atrocious Saudi-led war, but giving them the first spot on Trump’s itinerary is a discouraging confirmation that the U.S. is going to be even more indulgent of reckless and illegal Saudi behavior than it has been.
The administration’s reason for these visits isn’t very persuasive:
According to Trump’s aides, the trip is designed as a symbolic show of resolve to top US allies, whom the Trump administration hopes will renew their efforts to combat radicalism and intolerance around the world.
That would make some sense if either of these states was actually an ally of the United States, but the reality is that neither of them is. They aren’t allies, much less “top” allies, and treating them as if they are among the most important relationships we have is a serious error that distorts our policies in the region to our detriment. As for combating “radicalism and intolerance around the world,” neither of these states is much help. Saudi Arabia in particular does far more to promote “radicalism and intolerance” than it does to combat them, and the practical effect of their policies in both Syria and Yemen has been to stoke sectarian hatred and violence. Trump’s visit will not be seen as a “show of resolve,” but instead will be viewed as a stamp of approval of two clients’ destructive policies that U.S. support helps make possible.