If Donald Trump wanted his first visit abroad to be meaningful, he could have and should have gone to China’s One Belt-One Road Forum.
There he could have had his first meeting with President Putin, shortly after his apparently pleasant meeting with Sergey Lavrov. He could have also spoken to the leaders and government ministers of China, Turkey, India, Philippines, Pakistan and other large nations.
Instead the US sent some minor officials who did virtually nothing at a conference so ambitious, it’s penultimate outcome could dwarf the US spearheaded creation of the highly criticised World Trade Organisation.
Instead, Trump took the easy way out. His first trip abroad is less of a magical mystery tour than a boring predictability tour.
His trip to Saudi Arabia is merely a business transaction disguised in the pageantry of the backward Kingdom that Trump is probably enjoying after weeks of hell from the mainstream media and Congress. I’m sure he’s contemplating the wisdom of the fact that sheikhs cannot be impeached.
His trip to Israel will be equally predictable and cordial. Much like with Saudi Arabia, America’s alliance with Israel is a well oiled machine that is seamlessly operational in spite of transitions between US administrations, no matter how difficult that transition might be.
Trump will probably speak little about an Israel-Palestine peace plan beyond the same lip-service he paid during White House visits from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a subsequent visit from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
This is all the more ironic as Donald Trump now has more experience with a ‘two state solution’ than the Israelis or Palestinians. Between the deep state and the White House, America has essentially two states living and working side by side. Thus far the violence has been limited to rhetoric.
Worries that things might be tense after a Washington Post report may have endangered the life of as Israeli mole embedded with ISIS are generally exaggerated. Israel is happy that Donald Trump is outwardly friendly whereas Obama and the Israeli leadership had tense relations in spite of the fact that America’s alliance with Israel continued to expand during the Obama years.
His next visit to the Pope may be awkward as it may be the first time Trump has been in the same room as a Bernie Sanders supporter. All and all though, by visiting two staunch US allies and frankly US dependants followed by a visit to the punitively apolitical Vatican, Trump took the easy road.
If world events continue on this same path, he may not have this luxury in the future. It will be important for Trump to speak with the countries whose relationship with America is non-predictable though deeply essential. This includes large countries like China, Russia, India, Turkey, Pakistan and Brazil, but also smaller states like Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.
And this brings us back to the One Belt–One Road forum. Trump who is famous for rarely leaving the US, could have accomplished all of this at once. If even some progress was made with any country at the Beijing forum, Trump may well have been able to shift foreign policy discussions in Washington away from Russiagate and Syria and put things in a sharper focus but with a wider frame.
Instead, he’ll play fake sheikh in Saudi, act holier than thou in the Holy Land and get a photo-op with the Pope for US Catholics who area increasingly voting Republican after decades of traditionally voting Democratic.
In a word: pointless.