Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President Trump in Saudi Arabia

A long-time friend recently told me that I ought to be “sick to my stomach” at Trump’s behavior. I replied that my stomach is fine, but I asked him to please list a couple of things that Trump has done as President that he finds objectionable. He declined to provide anything except to say that it was Trump’s personality and behavior that disgusted him. Like many he played the amateur psychologist and claimed that Trump was “narcissistically self-aggrandizing.” In other words, he doesn’t like the President and it won’t matter what he does.

I suspect that this attitude is shared by most of those who were shocked and dismayed by Trump’s election. They vehemently dislike the man and everything about him including his family. As a result, they will not rest until he leaves office either by resignation or impeachment.
In a post written after the President’s speech to Congress I wrote that “the true test of the Trump administration will be on how much it can deliver. If President Trump can just deliver on a third of his promises, it will be a successful Presidency. Batting .333 is good in any league. I hope commentators will begin to focus on what the Trump administration is actually doing, and not on what they feat he will do.”

Unfortunately, relentless hatred against Trump has meant that few have bothered to discuss or assess what he has actually done in office so far. There has been a steady flow of vitriolic venom directed against every word or even gesture but no real discussion or evaluation of his public policies or actions. Even though actions are supposed to speak louder than words, words travel faster and fake news travels even faster.

The ship of state is like a giant aircraft carrier that takes time to turn. Even after the captain orders a change of direction, momentum will still carry the ship forward for a while. A huge ship cannot turn on a dime. It is the same with government. So what has Trump done so far?

I’m not going to spend much time discussing his various appointments, none of which seem to be those of some psychopath. Also, health care and tax reform are working their way through Congress in a much more open and constitutional fashion than in the previous administration.

It would appear that this week President Trump began the slow process of changing the course of American foreign policy. Interestingly, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton, a foreign affairs guru, argued that so far Trump has followed the same basic course as his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. However, Just this week President Trump began his first overseas visits with stops at the seats of the three great Western religious faiths.

To me the recently concluded visit to Saudi Arabia marked a real turning point. It is obvious that the visit had been well planned.  No one makes a $400 billion arms deal on the spur of the moment. Yesterday, my local Connecticut newspaper, a virulent opponent of Trump, featured an article indicating that the Saudi deal would provide much needed jobs at Sikorsky Aircraft, one of the country’s leading helicopter manufacturers.

But it was not just the trade deal. Despite his alleged Islamophobia, Trump received a royal welcome from the Saudis who were obviously happy to see him. The visit itself as well as the well- crafted speech that Trump gave on Sunday marked a real change over the policies of Obama and Bush. Trump announced that he was there to repair the relationship with Saudi Arabia that had been so damaged during the Obama administration. He declared his full support of Saudi Arabia not only in the fight against terrorism but also against Iran.

We don’t need Saudi oil anymore but we do need them as an economic and military partner. Trump also appealed to the Saudi leadership by stating that the era of nation building and outside interference was over. He expressed no desire to call for democracy or civil rights reforms in Saudi Arabia. He will not mess with their internal affairs or their religious doctrines and culture.

This marks a real change in policy. The policy of supporting and arming rebels in places like Libya, Egypt and Syria would appear to be over. Ivanka Trump might want to work for women’s rights in the Moslem world but her father and his advisors seem to understand that the greatest attacks on civil and women’s rights have come in countries where we have intervened to bring down autocratic rulers.

Saudi Arabia is a royal despotism where women have to cover their faces and bodies in public. But we just have to compare it to its neighbors where the breakdown of authority has led to the total denial of civil rights. In neighboring countries women are routinely kidnapped, beaten, raped, forced to flee their homes, and murdered.

In many ways Saudi Arabia is a business more than a country. Trump intends to do business with them but leave the running of their own business to them. Time will tell whether this strategy will work or not but it is worth a try. It has worked in many times and places. Discussion of this strategy should be based on its merits and not on the personality of President Trump. It is not the strategy of a psychopathic narcissist.


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