Trump starts with the Kingdom

Trump starts with the Kingdom

Donald Trump

When Donald Trump touches down in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom will be the first country he visits since he entered the White House in January. That this eight-day, five-country journey begins in Saudi Arabia is highly significant. Barack Obama’s first trip abroad as president was a one-day stop in Canada. Before him, President George W. Bush kicked off his international travel with a trip to Mexico. US presidents have traditionally made their first overseas visit to either a North American or European ally. But making the Kingdom his first stop shows that Trump is seeking to underline the importance of Saudi Arabia’s position as he starts to advance his foreign policy agenda.

Trump has a packed itinerary. After meeting Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on Saturday, he is scheduled to take part on Sunday in a pan-Arab and Islamic summit with leaders from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He is also scheduled to hold a separate joint session with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders. Coinciding with the visit is a business forum in Riyadh with CEOs of major global companies. At an inaugural Saudi-US CEO forum several deals are expected to be signed in the defense, electricity, oil and gas, industrial and chemical sectors. King Salman and President Trump will also inaugurate the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology during which they will discuss its important contribution to the fight against extremism and terrorism.

Trump’s visit to the Kingdom should dispel the idea that he is somehow against Muslim countries. “It lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir has told reporters, saying that “It’s a very clear message to the world that the US and Arab Muslim countries can form a partnership.” Speaking in the Rose Garden, Trump himself said he wanted “to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the Middle East”.

Fighting terrorism is high on Trump’s agenda. US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has said that Trump’s keynote address will center on “the need to confront radical ideology… to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners”.

The trip will also have one other consequence. It modifies Trump’s campaign motto of “America First”, which was interpreted to mean that US foreign policy would translate into America acting unilaterally without the need for allies or partners. However, “America First” does not mean, according to McMaster, “America Alone”. If anything, it means strengthening alliances and partnerships.

This foreign foray sends the message that the US cannot go it alone. Trump cannot defeat Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) alone. Trump can’t make a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal alone. He cannot end the war in Syria alone. Nor can he contain or dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program alone. He will conclude his trip participating in a NATO meeting. All of the foreign policy issues on Trump’s plate require that he work with other countries. The world beyond America’s shores is a world Washington must work with, not without. To have any hope of managing this world’s challenges, the US will require a good deal of help from other nations.

Trump’s visit shows that the US is not abandoning its allies in the region and in fact needs them more than at any time before. The trip is a huge opportunity to reinforce America’s partnership with Saudi Arabia and that of all other Muslim nations who espouse the same goals.