As the noose was slowly tightening around Richard Nixon’s presidency, Nixon decided to go on a whirlwind international tour through the Middle East, Austria and Portugal. For approximately ten days from June 9-19th, Nixon went to seven countries conducting himself as if he were a college graduate going on a grand tour prior to having to stop living on Daddy’s account and going to work. At the end of June Nixon would go on one more tour to meet again with all is European friends in Brussels and then on to Moscow for what would be his last presidential visit with Brezhnev and Kosygin. Approximately one month later Nixon would resign from office.
Donald Trump is leaving his own bed on Friday to go abroad for the first time as President to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Sicily (for the G-7 meeting), and Brussels (for the NATO Meetings). Like with Nixon this trip also has a surreal feeling. Given his impetuous behavior, lack of serious preparation, and looseness of speech—only now reinforced by his apparent disclosures of classified material last week to his Russian White House guests—the likely outcome of this trip is unpredictable.
Presidential meetings especially with foreign leaders are usually highly choreographed and the results totally expected. There are generally no surprises. Any appearance of actual negotiations are all previously orchestrated. Most observers are likely to be shocked if this forthcoming Trump junket goes off totally on script.
Today alone in Israel where the President is expected to visit for just over 24 hours beginning next Sunday, there have been numerous substantive controversies and public diplomatic scheduling challenges. They have sent all the protocol operatives in Jerusalem and Washington already climbing through hoops.
These have ranged from whether Netanyahu will also speak when Trump delivers his major presentation at Masada, to whether Bibi will accompany Trump in his visit to the Western Wall, to whether or not a U.S. diplomat did or did not mis-speak for the Trump Administration when he referred to the Wall being in the West Bank. This does not even begin to address the debate over whether told Trump decided not to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem at this time and Bibi acquiesced but told his coalition partners that he did not; or whether Trump promised Israel one thing and PA leader Abbas something else.
These and many more details are already affecting Trump’s visit to Israel. Similar issues no doubt exist for all the other stops but may not yet be getting all the publicity. These include in Saudi Arabia where the presumed emphasis will be on Iran and oil production; with Pope Francis who will likely focus on immigrants and refugees; in Brussels where Trump will address increased funding for NATO; and in Italy where he will need to message and greet all the G-7 leaders–some of whom he will be meeting for the first time.
Meanwhile, like when Nixon made his last swing, the press undoubtedly will hound Trump with all the developments at home. It is obviously not clear whether Trump will stay on script; something he has demonstrated so far he is not inclined to do. It could be any interesting trip