Trump to embark on ambitious first trip abroad

On his first foreign trip as US President, Donald Trump is leaving behind a White House suffocating in scandal.

Known for being a reluctant traveller who prefers his own bed, Mr Trump may welcome a shift in focus from the numerous political fires that neither he nor his aides can extinguish.

A hectic nine-day tour of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, Italy and the Vatican will certainly divert attention from what is happening at home but the problems are not going away.

And with this President the trip itself could throw up its own surprises. Each stop requires some pretty intense briefing and delicate handling, which Mr Trump is not known for.

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The first trip abroad of a US president is usually either to neighbouring Mexico or Canada.

The countries chosen for Mr Trump’s first outing have been seen as too ambitious.

The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg thinks it could be too much.

“Heading to the Middle East to have this encounter with the Abrahamic religions and to the Vatican, adding the Vatican onto that, seems both fraught and unnecessary, also possibly counterproductive,” he said.

“Because the Middle East – it doesn’t take a genius to know this – is a little bit of a minefield.”

How much room Mr Trump has for the nuances of all that is highly questionable. Accusations of obstruction of justice and revealing secrets to the Russians will surely be front of mind whether at home or abroad.

His global audience has been watching open-mouthed as scandal replaces scandal.

FBI director James Comey gives evidence in a Congressional hearing on Russian election interference
Former FBI boss James Comey was abruptly fired last week

After those reports that he may have bragged classified information to the Kremlin, allies like Israel and the UK will be seeking reassurance about intelligence sharing. Though, according to a US official, there are no tweaks or changes to the schedule to accommodate that.

The same official said NATO will be a strong theme of the trip, with an emphasis on “increased burden sharing”.

Mr Trump will be telling members they need to increase their commitments.

His administration is hoping for a “warm and upbeat” meeting with the Pope Francis.

The aim is to “show respect” for the Pope, with whom Mr Trump clashed during the election campaign over the need to build bridges not walls.

Despite reports that Mr Trump is dreading this trip, his administration says he is eager to press the agenda he campaigned on.

Pope Francis leaves St. Peter's Square at the end of the Easter Mass on April 16, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican.
The US President hopes for a warm meeting with Pope Francis

But Mr Trump did not campaign on foreign policy. No one really knows what his approach is.

Mr Goldberg says: “There is no discernible American foreign policy at the moment, there are a bunch of impulses, there are a bunch of initiatives, there are competing power centres, but there’s no through-line, there’s no theme.”

He reckons the best the Trump administration can hope for is that the trip passes without incident.

“The best possible outcome of this trip for him is that he doesn’t screw anything up,” he said.

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“He’s literally going to the most volatile place in the world, he’s going to Jerusalem, he’s going to Saudi Arabia to give a talk on the future of Islam.

“I’m not speechless that often, but that one really took me by surprise, because that seems like a somewhat audacious thing for Donald Trump to go and do.”

Audacious is the only way this President knows.

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