As President Trump wraps up his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, one result to watch is whether this nine-day, five-nation swing whets his appetite for future foreign travel.
While the president is a creature of habit who prefers the comforts of home, as this trip ends he should be energized about his presidency, and truly hopeful about what he can achieve in foreign policy.
While Democratic opposition, the special counsel investigation and breathless media attention await him at home, when he is abroad he has found that being president is akin to pushing on an open door.
In advance of his trip, he and his team smoothly negotiated the largest U.S. arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia, which was announced when he arrived in country.
His speech on terrorism, delivered at a large gathering of Arab leaders, was substantive, confident and hopeful. It was the kind of speech with which all Americans could agree. It represented mainstream foreign and security policy over decades of U.S. leadership.
The timing could not have been more appropriate, following the Sunni Arab world unifying against the gathering Iranian Shiite nuclear threat, while presaging the horrific suicide bombing in Manchester, England. The response inside the room was very positive. The result is Mr. Trump leading a global coalition against terrorism, which could serve as a major part of his presidential legacy.
Mr. Trump then visited the Holy Land, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warmly received him. Israelis appreciated Mr. Trump’s kind words and public support, and he made the historic first visit to the Western Wall by a sitting U.S. president.
He then traveled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains politically weak, but who expressed a desire to reach for peace. These two bilateral visits will hopefully set the stage for security and peace negotiations in the coming months.
Mr. Trump then went to Rome to meet with Pope Francis, which he called “the honor of a lifetime.” While these two world leaders have differed on some high-profile policy issues in the past, Mr. Trump said after the meeting that he was more motivated to seek peace in the world than ever before.
Additional meetings in Brussels with NATO officials will increase cooperation to advance regional security. Mr. Trump did press NATO members on following through with the requisite defense spending of 2 percent of gross domestic product, but Mr. Trump has grown into a public supporter of NATO, at a time when its security role is more crucial than ever.
Mr. Trump has surrounded himself with a stellar national security and foreign policy team, and he has excelled at developing strong relationships with world leaders in a very brief period of time. This is a part of the job that he has taken to, as it reminds him of negotiating.
When he talks to world leaders, either in person or on the phone, he benefits from the sheer power and sterling image of the U.S.
Following President Obama’s absurd “lead from behind” approach, Mr. Trump’s active engagement and desire to make deals, solve problems, strengthen alliances and isolate threats is a welcome change. The message is simple: America is back in the leadership business.
His two most striking short-term foreign policy achievements to date have been moving China to pressure North Korea over its rogue nuclear program and using limited and proportional military force to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against its own people.
As Mr. Trump begins to return home, he should look back on this trip with a sense of accomplishment and hope for the future. It’s a big world, and while the travel can be daunting and exhausting, there is an endless supply of foreign leaders who want to work with the U.S. on economic and security issues.
While the pace of Congress can be endlessly frustrating for any president, we have only one head of state. I suspect Mr. Trump will ramp up foreign travel after this successful trip, with an eye toward further foreign policy achievements this year — and next.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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