Given the media’s obsession with some of the President Trump’s communication challenges, it was utterly predictable that the President’s declaration that his trip to Europe and the Middle East should be considered a “home run” was met almost universally with ridicule. In truth, the President actually did accomplish a series of victories overseas, or at least laid important groundwork that should help advance American interests in ways that prior Administrations have failed to do. It’s a shame that these developments have been ignored among the din of partisanship.
From my perspective President Trump reasserted American leadership in the primary security challenge of our day, namely the defeat of radical Islamic terrorism. He also struck deals that could prove financial windfalls to U.S. industry. The President ran on security and prosperity and that was precisely the thrust of the trip.
Trump’s first stop was Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the most holy places in Islam, the most influential of the Sunni Arab states and the one with whom America has long enjoyed close relations. Over the previous eight years Sunni Arabs had been increasingly dismayed by the Obama Administration’s tilt towards friendship with Shiite Iran and her allies. (This change resulted in the Iran Nuclear Treaty which is widely despised among Sunnis.) Given that some had concluded that Trump had won the presidency on in part through anti-Islam rhetoric, his meetings in Saudi Arabia should do much to quell anxiety in America’s most important Islamic allies.
Possibly even of more significance was King Salman’s invitation to Trump to address the leaders of 50 Sunni Arab states, something never done before by a U.S. President. In his speech the President offered traditional American leadership, but in return demanded cooperation in the ideological battle with radical Islam. He exhorted Arab leaders to “Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship … your communities … your holy land … out of this earth.”
To achieve this he announced the opening of the new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology to be located symbolically in Saudi Arabia. He assured his audience that while “America seeks peace—not war. … Our friends will never question our support and our enemies will never doubt out determination.” If any doubted Trump’s conviction, his ordering of a 59 Tomahawk Cruise missile strike into Syria on April 6th and the dropping of the CBU 43/B ‘Mother Of all Bombs’ in Afghanistan on April 14th, proved the determination of his words. All 50 national leaders signed an agreement designed to starve ISIS of international funds. This is an achievement that the mainstream press has bent over backwards to ignore.
But the biggest take away from Saudi Arabia may be financial. The Saudis agreed to a $100 billion arms purchase from the U.S. and a $400 billion joint investment in oil, gas, and high technology. Many have concluded that these deals could lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S.
With positive accolades from the Saudis, Trump went to Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the President did not make any mention of a ‘two-state’ solution, the message was clear that Trump felt very positive that a long sought peace deal was possible between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Furthermore, in what appeared to be very friendly and positive meetings, he assured Israelis that America would “…never, ever allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.”
The most significant portion of the trip came when the President landed in Brussels for meetings with NATO leaders, who collectively represent America’s most vital allies. After a campaign in which candidate Trump famously asserted the obsolescence of the Post-war NATO alliance, the majority of the leaders in attendance were convinced that as President he would move past campaign rhetoric to adopt the pragmatism typical of American presidents. As such, it was expected that Trump would re-affirm the United States’ commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (that assures mutual defense if any single NATO member nation is subjected to outside attack).
To their dismay, Trump conspicuously failed to do so. This omission elicited palpitations on both sides of the Atlantic and caused many to conclude that the Western alliance had been permanently fractured and that the Russians had achieved their long awaited strategic triumph. This conclusion is laughably premature.
As an accomplished business negotiator, Trump knows that it is unwise to fold one’s cards while the hand is still in play. His real goal here is not to abandon Western Europe to the perils of Russian expansion but to compel wealthy European countries to finally pay for a commensurate portion of their own defense. For years many of these countries have spent far less than the 2% of GDP on defense as NATO membership requires. The neglect has been easy to make when these governments could be assured that a muscular Uncle Sam would always ride to the rescue regardless. As the old saying goes, “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?”
Undoubtedly Trump sought to create the ‘leverage of fear’ to force the cooperation of reluctant NATO leaders in meeting their defense spending targets. Following the initial shock, Trump’s attack appeared to have positive results. By the close of the NATO and subsequent G-7 meetings, many national leaders, including France’s new President Macron, who dined privately with Trump, appeared to agree that NATO must meet its defense spending commitments.
Trump also appears to have been successful in pushing the NATO allies in committing more resources in the fight against international Islamic terrorism. While ISIS has not yet been able to deploy weapons of mass destruction, it has instead been able to utilize a substitute: the weapon of mass immigration. It is likely that hundreds of ISIS cells live within NATO countries, where Muslims already have been given preferential treatment under local laws. The disgustingly barbaric ISIS attack in Manchester was mentioned repeatedly by Trump as a contemporary event in order to drive home the ever increasing, ever broadening global threat of ISIS. The Manchester attack may help stiffen the backs of NATO leaders in taking resolute anti-terrorist measures, including not merely watching but deporting known radical suspects. Again, it supported Trump’s long held stance on illegal immigration.
In the aftermath of the trip many have cited Chancellor Merkel’s remark that Europe must be more self-reliant as evidence of Trump’s failure as a world leader. But for those who have long believed the Translantic status-quo as both inequitable and inefficient, her admission may very well be a sign of his success.
The President’s trip can be viewed as the initial step of first isolating and then possibly forming a massive military U.S. led coalition of Sunni Arabs, Israel and NATO to defeat ISIS, while leaving Shite Iran and its nuclear treaty to be dealt with later. Trump’s inaugural overseas trip could well result in a positive effect on world trade, job creation and economic growth. Coupled with the prospect of greatly increased defense expenditure, equities should benefit.