President Trump has had, according to the White House, a successful maiden trip outside the U.S. But the bad news is he has to come home. Back in Washington, the ongoing Russia investigations await him along with another appeals court setback for his travel ban. So, before Air Force One is wheels down at Andrews Air Force Base late Saturday, here are 5 takeaways from Trump’s first foreign trip since becoming president.
(1) Trump harangues NATO
In Trump’s speech at the NATO summit in Brussels, he did briefly mention the “the commitments that bind us together as one,” but he didn’t give NATO what it wanted: an explicit endorsement of Article 5, which says that when invoked, NATO allies must aid a fellow ally under attack. This “an attack on one is an attack on all” pledge has only been invoked once in NATO’s history — for the United States after the September 11 attacks.
Instead, the president used his speech to publicly scold the 23 out of 28 NATO countries that are not living up to their commitment to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. He described NATO as a kind of protection racket where the NATO allies pay the U.S. to defend them and even suggested NATO members are in arrears and owe the U.S. past dues.
On the substance of this issue, Trump is on solid ground. Past U.S. presidents have also complained about NATO “free riders.” But by humiliating NATO leaders in public Trump may add to the growing backlash against him in Europe, making it harder for NATO leaders, who have to answer to their own voters, to give in to his demands.
By Saturday morning, Trump was already tweeting that the NATO partners had given him a big win on this issue and that the money was beginning to roll in. Maybe that will make him more disposed to his European partners as they lobby him to stay in the Paris Climate Accord. He tweeted he will make a decision next week — but he did not, on behalf of U.S., join the rest of the G7 in reaffirming a commitment to implement the Paris agreement.
(2) Iran is the enemy
The biggest idea of Trump’s trip was to reorient U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East against Iran.
Where President Obama tried to encourage Iran to reform through the Iran nuclear agreement, President Trump sees a new alliance of Sunni Arab states and Israel, united against their common enemy Iran, as the key to curtailing terrorism and to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Details of exactly how this “outside in” approach would work are TBD but if it succeeds it would be a real foreign policy triumph for Trump.
(3) Sheiks are better company than presidents and prime ministers
Trump seemed to have a much better time in Riyadh than Brussels. No, he didn’t repeat his description of the Belgian capital as a “hellhole,” but the contrast between Trump’s warm embrace of Saudi autocrats and his awkward interaction with the democratically elected European leaders was hard to miss.
(4) Beware the glowing orb
Saudi Press Agency/AP
Every presidential trip abroad has its share of weird photo-ops. But the image of a smiling Trump communing with a couple Middle Eastern dictators as they placed their hands on a glowing orb was hard to beat.
Other odd moments from this trip include the “grip and grit your teeth” handshake with new French President Emmanuel Macron, the failed attempts at hand holding with the first lady and video of Trump shoving aside Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, as the NATO leaders got ready for their class photo.
(5) Did the pope just call the president chubby?
When Pope Francis met the president and first lady he asked Melania Trump, “What do you give him to eat? Potica?”
Potica is a Slovenian dessert that’s sweet and, apparently, very fattening.
Was the pope just trying to make small talk, by bringing up delicacies from Melania’s homeland? Or was he actually referring to the president’s weight?