First foreign trip of American leader confirms Middle East key priority
2 June 2017. PenzaNews. US President Donald Trump has finished his first trip abroad in the status of the head of state, which included a visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian Autonomy, Belgium, where he met with the leaders of NATO member countries, and Italy where G-7 two-day summit took place.
Photo: Shealah Craighead, Flickr.com/whitehouse
“From Saudi Arabia to Israel to NATO to the G-7, we made extraordinary gains on this historic trip to advance the security and prosperity of the United States, our friends and our allies. And we paved the way for a new era of cooperation among the nations of the world to defeat the common enemy of terrorism,” Donald Trump said addressing US military personnel at Sigonella Air Naval Station in Sicily, Italy.
Moreover, summarizing the results of the visit, the US president once again reminded that he advocates for increasing military expenditures of all NATO members who did not comply with the 2% of GDP level set by the alliance.
At the same time, according to observers, the most significant result of Donald Trump's foreign tour was signing of a package of agreements in Riyadh for a total of 380 billion dollars. In particular, the parties agreed on the purchase by Saudi Arabia of US weapons for more than 100 billion dollars: Black Hawk helicopters, tanks, artillery installations, armored vehicles, coastal defense ships, Patriot and THAAD anti-missile systems.
Commenting on the results of American president’s working visit, Evgeniya Voyko, associate professor of the department of political science at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, noted that Donald Trump’s choice of countries for his first foreign trip was quite understandable.
“The Middle East remains a priority area for the administration of the United States. The US demonstrates the desire to control the situation, first of all, in the arms supply market, and also emphasizes the importance of Saudi Arabia for Washington. Israel, which has close political, economic and cultural ties with the Americans, is also an important partner of the United States in the region. On his first visit, Donald Trump consolidates his key allies in the world, emphasizes his sphere of influence in the Middle East and demonstrates that there will be no serious changes in this direction,” she told PenzaNews.
Meanwhile, according to her, a certain information campaign has been started against Donald Trump since the first days of his presidency.
“It is aimed at revealing his negative personality traits, in order to take matters of politics and serious economic contacts to the background. At the level of world media, including American media, there is an attempt to disavow the importance of the new president, showing that he is rather not a top-level politician, but a businessman who cannot run the country and does some actions that a ‘decent’ president should not do,” the analyst explained.
Nevertheless, the high level of meetings and all the contracts do not allow calling his visit to the Middle East a failure, she said.
“As for the US-NATO relations, the financing of the North Atlantic alliance is an urgent issue, a problem that Barack Obama could not handle. The topic of United States relations with the EU is also significant enough for US foreign policy, but the American leader is not very concerned about this issue, unlike the previous president, who actively lobbied for the Transatlantic partnership. Now this topic has gone to the background and is not a key issue for the US administration,” Evgeniya Voyko said.
Analyzing the potential threat that a multibillion-dollar agreement of US arms supply to Saudi Arabia can bring, Pal Steigan, Norwegian politician, publisher, writer, independent entrepreneur in the field of culture and information technology, stressed that Saudi Arabia is “the chief sponsor of jihadism in the world”.
“As a candidate Donald Trump was very critical to the Saudi power in the US, this criticism has melted away since then. Now he curtsied for the terror king and received his medal of honour finalizing an arms deal of more than 100 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia is the biggest arms importer in the world, its ‘defence’ budget dwarfing even that of Russia. At the same time it is a very unstable dictatorship, exporting terror to the world. The Saudis themselves don’t fight, they buy mercenaries and arm with the US, German and even Norwegian weapons. Losses of soldiers in this way have no effect on public opinion in Saudi Arabia and the war mongers can go on unchecked,” the expert explained.
He also reminded that Israel is another key partner of the United States in the Middle East.
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“Over the last years we have seen the emergence of a de facto Saudi-Israeli axis particularly in fighting Libya, Syria and Iran. Both the Saudis and the Israelis want a military confrontation, read war with Iran, and they want to bring the US on board,” Pal Steigan added.
Meanwhile, Tinashe Chuchu from School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, shared the opinion that the states for the first foreign visit were chosen not by chance.
“In particular, Donald Trump wanted to show the US continued commitment of its support for Israel. The West Bank trip was also very significant in that most of the region is Israeli controlled and part of it is under Israeli-Palestinian authority. For decades this region has been under paramount conflict with the US administration after US administration trying to broker a peaceful settlement deal,” the expert said and reminded that earlier in his presidency he had already promised to bring peace to that region.
However, the effectiveness of the meetings can be seen in the long term, he said.
“Donald Trump has softened some of his foreign policy views as well as changed his approach. For instance he changed his views on relations with the pope Francis and his position towards the North Atlantic alliance,” the analyst added.
According to him, the US president gave foreign leaders an opportunity to view him differently.
“The key statements made it clear that Islam and the US are not at war. This was to assure that the campaign rhetoric that was laced with anti-Islamic sentiment was long gone. The other key statement was that he partially expressed his commitment to NATO,” Tinashe Chuchu said.
Commenting on the signing of a package of agreements with Saudi Arabia, he recalled that the US and Saudi Leadership have heard fairly productive relationships at an official level over the years.
“However there is a potential risk. The threat might come from groups not formally affiliated with the Saudi government but acting within Saudi Arabia. These groups might harbor certain anti-US sentiments thus becoming risky for them to potential gain access to these arms,” the analyst suggested.
According to him, the expected US Foreign Policy vector is that the US will take a more protectionist role.
“It will commit less to some of these international agreements and definitely pull out of free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA. Donald Trump would like to keep jobs in the US implying that foreign US owned businesses have to be cut down. In South Africa there is a risk that car manufacturers such as Ford Motors would leave therefore potentially affecting 800 South African workers. This would mean at least 100 million dollars would be lost. Moreover, the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), could potentially be re-negotiated by Donald Trump, this agreement is a free trade agreement between sub-Saharan countries such as South Africa and the US which removes trade tariffs allowing for free exportation of sub-Saharan products into the US. This could affect the South African economy negatively if the agreement terms are toughened,” the expert added.
In turn, Hugh Gusterson, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, George Washington University, said that in his first foreign trip, the US president set himself a number of specific tasks.
“One objective was to sign a big arms deal with Saudi Arabia. By visiting Saudi Arabia, he also wanted to show that he is not hostile to all Muslims. If he succeeded in that, it was at the cost of seeming indifferent to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia. He seems to have wanted to communicate to European allies that he is annoyed that they do not pay more for defense and that they export too much to the United States. He communicated that message very clearly, and damaged the Western alliance in the process. He also wanted to persuade his critics in the US that he is a statesman. In this he failed dismally,” the expert said.
According to him, Donald Trump looked like ‘a crass peasant’ when he pushed the leader of Montenegro out of the way, often seemed confused, and demonstrated his own ignorance and isolation.
“When he lectured Angela Merkel he was seen by Europeans as an ill-mannered dolt. As shown by Angela Merkel’s speech after he left Europe, he may have done permanent damage to the Western alliance,” Hugh Gusterson added.
From his point of view, it is rather difficult to predict further foreign policy steps of the American leader.
“His White House is run, as his business was, on the principles of unpredictability, chaos and factional conflict — all of which lend power to the man at the top who decides. But this chaos makes it hard to predict what policies will emerge. It may depend on which of his advisers and cabinet secretaries survive,” the analyst concluded.