New York Times (Opinion)
By Gail Collins
May 19, 2017
Donald Trump has gone abroad. Nine days. Five stops. Strange beds. Anything could happen.
Could be a win. The bar is so stupendously low these days that if Trump makes it clear he knows what country he’s in, it’ll be a triumph.
We will stop now to beat back our sudden fear that our president will not know what country he’s in. After all, one stop on the trip is Belgium, which he once referred to as “a beautiful city.”
Trump is looking for a change of conversation, so we will try not to point out that while visiting both Saudi Arabia and Israel is a welcome gesture, Richard Nixon tried the same thing in 1974, and nobody was distracted.
But the news just keeps on coming. While the president was in the air, we learned that he told Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that he had fired F.B.I. Director James Comey because Comey put him under “great pressure because of Russia.”
Well, at least it’s an indication that he knows how to talk with foreign dignitaries about topics they’re interested in.
Saudi Arabia seems like a good choice for a first stop — although if Trump wants to get away from the “witch hunt,” he ought to know that the Saudi religious police have a special anti-witchcraft unit. Otherwise, he and the Saudi leadership have a lot in common, including an affinity for giving top jobs to their relatives and government decision-making that features only one gender.
It’s true that during the campaign Trump suggested the Saudis were somehow involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, that they “push gays off buildings” and “kill women and treat women horribly.” On the other hand, he also told one rally that he got along “great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Whatever else you complain about, give the man credit for flexibility.
The theme of the Arab Islamic part of the presidential trip is “Together We Prevail.” Then comes Israel, whose slogan might well be “Where Did This Guy Come From?”
The Israelis are irritated about Trump’s sudden shift to Arab inclusion, but they get a ton of military aid from the United States that will presumably encourage them to be friendly. And to forget about the president leaking their spy secrets to the Russians, his refusal to schedule more than 15 minutes at their revered Holocaust museum and his cancellation of a speech at the historic site at Masada because it required his riding in a cable car.
His hosts will try to talk about subjects Trump prefers. The Israeli leaders remember that when their prime minister was in Washington, the president responded to a press conference question about anti-Semitism in America by reminding everyone he had won 306 Electoral College votes. Peter Baker reported in The Times that as heads of state were preparing for the big trip, all of them were being primed to remember to bring up that Electoral College thing a lot.
Then it’s off to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, with whom Trump conducted a verbal war over wall-building. But that’s all over, and the president now clearly appreciates Francis as the great moral leader he is. (“I think he’s got a lot of personality.”)
It’s unlikely there will be any terrible moments of conflict during the trip. Trump can be very good at meetings with people he wants to get along with. He looks serious. He nods. He says “yeah” frequently.
His mind may be somewhere else entirely — golf, lunch, the witch hunt, that funny thing he saw on the street. But the nodding continues. When the meeting is over, the other people at the table often come away very pleased with themselves, unaware he has already forgotten everything they said.
The Vatican talk will probably be about refugees and immigration. It’s possible Francis will feel they had a real meeting of the minds. The president will recall that the pope is shorter than he is.
Anyhow, then comes NATO, and a meeting with allied leaders in Belgium, where the slogan appears to be “Don’t Let Him Get Bored.” Everyone is on their toes about keeping remarks very, very short.
The president is primed to demand that our allies start spending more on weapons and the military, and not just be “partners who take and take and take.” I’ll bet it bears fruit. There definitely is something about him that makes people want to increase their defense budgets.
Trump has spent his entire political career warning Americans that “the world is laughing at us.” But now it really, really is. Europe is awash in stories about the two-to-four-minute limit on remarks during the NATO discussions. The glee is muted only by remembering that this is now the most powerful person in the world.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on May 20, 2017, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Watch Out World, Trump Is Coming.
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