Somehow it was a relief to have Trump abroad, thousands of miles away, even if he was still uncomfortably close to the nuclear football. But because, with Trump, you learn more by what he does than what he says, there are lessons to be learned from his trip. Eliot Cohen’s excellent review in The Atlantic “What Did Trump Accomplish on His First Foreign Trip?” adroitly exposes the foibles of Trump’s pretenses and the very real damage done by the bull in the china shop.
Here’s a sample: “It had ample farcical episodes: the Saudi king, the dictator of Egypt, and the president of the United States placing their hands on a glowing orb that evoked for some a lampoon of Lord of the Rings. The secretary of state assuring us that no one overseas was paying attention to Trump’s domestic troubles (palpably, indeed laughably, untrue) even as his spokesman excluded the American press from a briefing attended by the considerably more docile reporters of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The national-security adviser insisting, ‘The entire trip is about human rights, about all civilized people coming together to fight the hatred’—an odd remark to make in a country that lops the hands off thieves and the heads off apostates. The commerce secretary, in one of his more witlessly thuggish remarks, observing complacently about urban Riyadh: ‘There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there.’ And then there were the video clips: Melania flicking away her husband’s groping hand and the Leader of the Free World giving the prime minister of little Montenegro a good hard shove.”
“Instead, some tin-horn Talleyrand in the president’s entourage thought that this serial and unrepentant swindler, fornicator, and prevaricator was the man to bring together the three Abrahamic faiths by going to Riyadh, Jerusalem, and the Vatican. This conceit must strain Christian charity, let alone more austere Jewish and Muslim moralism.
It was foolish to begin the trip in Saudi Arabia, of all places. It is an ally, to be sure, but was also the home of roughly three-quarters of the 9/11 terrorists, and the source (from private funding) of terrorist financing, and far worse, of the teaching of Wahhabi doctrines inimical to the moderate forms of Islam that once prevailed around the world. Saudi and Gulf-funded religious schools, preachers, textbooks, and travel are a critical part of the story of the last several decades of violent jihad. The kingdom represses non-Muslim faiths and women, and it tolerates the barbarous treatment of foreign nationals. We forget those facts at our peril.”
Meanwhile, “at home the scandal news came not in drips but spattering gouts. We learn that a ‘person of interest’ close to the president is a focus of the Russia investigation, and that this is apparently is none other his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Making matters worse, Kushner was reported to have requested a communications channel directly through the Russian Embassy, to avoid U.S. government surveillance. We discover that the president had improperly asked the director of the National Security Agency and the director of National Intelligence to clear his late campaign of Russian connections. His former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn decided to take the 5th, which from a judicial point of view means that one cannot infer his guilt, but from a common-sense point of view makes it look highly probable.”
Cohen has much more, all of it on point, if perhaps more charitable than Trump and his crime family deserve. Give it a look and consider his conclusion as to “how little there is beneath the façade of this paper mâché presidency.”
As The Atlantic notes, “Eliot A. Cohen is the director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.” He brings uncommon expertise. While you are at it, if you missed it, consider also the recent editorial in Der Spiegel, noted in my blog “Der Spiegel has seen enough.”