A Sigh of Relief—Not So Fast
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
When Trump sticks to the script and plays by the rules he can actually behave like a President. His problem is that he does not permit anyone to tell him how to conduct himself. It should not be the case that Trump needs to be outside the country to behave himself. His visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as his audience with Pope Francis appear to have gone off, relatively speaking, without a hitch. The hard work of the trip, however, begins now in Brussels and Sicily.
The visit to Saudi Arabia was about finalizing a $100 million plus arms package. All of the rest—a visible signal to the House of Saud that he will not raise human rights issues as well as a mutual agreement to fight ISIS–were nice sidebars. Even his speech to the large assemblage of Sunni Arab leaders and his speech to the Arab world were dutiful. They were probably less important for Trump than the image of him doing the dance with the swords.
The Israel visit was a continuation of the Bibi-Trump admiration society with not much substance. So too was the meeting with Abbas in Bethlehem which was only a symbolic visit. It will remain to be seen–despite the Tillerson press briefing–if anything will yet emerge from Trump’s bravado that he can actually make a “deal” on the peace process.
As if there was not enough for Trump now to address, the specter of the terrorist attack in Manchester undoubtedly will hang as a pall over the NATO meeting and the G-7 gathering. It is not clear if Trump will continue to stay on script and to interact appropriately with all the leaders. Trump was unpredictable going into the meetings but the potential for some explosive and/or aggressive remarks from Trump after Manchester would not be surprising. While discussing the terrorist threats, Trump already made reference to the Manchester bombers as “evil losers”; whatever that turn of phrase was supposed to mean.
The issue of terrorism both on the continent and in the Middle East will dominate much of the attention at these meetings in light of the elevated danger in Britain following the Manchester bombing. Many of the countries in Europe already have sizeable Muslim populations some of whom have been citizens for several decades; not the least of which is France whose new President also will be attending his first summit.
Addressing the terrorist problem for these countries is a daily issue which requires nuanced understanding and strategies, not aggressive, blanket denunciations; something the President does not understand. The huge costs incurred by America’s European allies to cope with the large scale refugee crisis emerging from the war in Syria and caring for their already mushrooming Muslim immigrant population is a policy direction with which Trump’s America First foreign policy is not interested. Finally, these problems impact dramatically on Theresa May’s June 8 election and Angela Merkel’s on September 24. For them it is as important as increasing their financial participation at this time in the cost of NATO.
Trump then will have the restful thought that he now can return home and face the domestic clamor which has continued to grow.