Monday, May 22, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Less gracefully than Obama, Trump attempts a bow
to the Saudi king in a ceremonial presentation.
Halfway through his foreign barnstorming, President Trump has presented a calmer, more rational and reassuring face than his US charges have ever seen up-close and constant. It is a calculated and growingly necessary effort at calming the international waters after  excoriating Islam, limiting  travel from Latin American and  Arab-majority countries, sharpening ICE talons and scorning hard-won treaties and NATO.

But he is also going out of his way on the first leg – Saudi Arabia and Israel – to trash Obama.

He insists he is good at making friends and advancing economies while the previous president was not.  Indeed, he is attacking what conservative pundits call the Achilles heel of the Obama years – foreign appeasement or accommodation depending on who you are talking to. Apparently it was outrageous that Obama bowed before the Saudi king when receiving an award but not a big deal that Trump attempted something like a curtsy.

More centrist observers note that deeper belief in US ideals and maturity in leading the world were actually the heritage from Obama.

It is a strange case for a president who inherited a pretty decent economy and a great deal of foreign goodwill, but Trump may succeed in eroding that Obama image a bit by playing on the universal greed for something that sounds better – the same ploy of promises that has worked on Americans.

Trump was most successful with the entrenched wealthy autocratic sheiks and the hard right Israeli prime minister. The first are troubled that Obama showed concern for their human rights record and actually encouraged their serfs to act out, which is certainly a danger to them. 

The second wanted a friend who overlooked raw flaws so much that he would not ever deal with Iran, while Iran in its recent election has strongly shown an interest in moderation.  If that was a signal by the Iranian masses, Trump sure ignored it, though  many in Jerusalem  concede that Obama did very well in the nuclear deal.

The trip often seemed about bashing Iran even more than Obama, so if nothing else Trump may have chosen sides for the US in the endless rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

It will be interesting to see  whether this bashing game continues  at the Vatican.

Comedian Bill Maher joked that Trump made his first extended overseas trip a visit to the centers of  “three major religions” – Catholics, Jews and oil.  There is some sarcastic truth there – since there is no real olive branch in settling the long-festering Israel-Palestine dispute,  just  a lot of hope  that ceremonial exchanges in lavish settings are a sign of progress. It’s a variation on his “try me – what do you have to lose?” strategy with US voters.

All Trump would say about Israel and Palestine was  that it looked like one of the toughest deals ever but “I feel we will get there eventually . . . I hope.” That and crushing ISIS seemed the extent of his foreign policy details. His tsk-tsks on expanded Israeli settlements and Arab stabbing incursions are  unlikely to push into meaningful bargaining.

Trump’s much anticipated speech to Arabs was about driving ISIS out and then to death, not just driving them out to other places as is most likely to occur if his advice is followed. He was addressing an Arab community whose strictest beliefs and Wahhabism education of the young are blamed as a major force in encouraging violence that less tribal strains of Islamic teaching reject. Driving them out and making the US more isolated are not comforting responses to a global gang of murderers. Killing them all is hardly that easy. They are going to go someplace and even walls won’t keep them out, given the modern techniques of how they get in.

There is also much fear that the chumminess with Netanyahu and policies centered around Arab royalty  deliberately shut out the Palestinians from any equitable voice in bargaining.

Nikki Haley tours refugee camp in Jordan
while Trump wined and dined.
It was left to UN ambassador Nikki Haley, while Trump was dining and sword dancing with the Saudis, to tour a  refugee camp in Jordan and speak about the human tragedy of Syria.  With a lighter touch than Trump, she also pledged humanitarian aid would not be impeded in the new budget – which takes an ax to education and Medicaid.  She described the aim as helping Syrian refuges where they are, rather than open our doors to them, though right now elsewhere means safety.

Part of this was once natural in a centuries old  immigration reality.  Up until the 1920s, sometimes 50% of a country’s immigrants to the US did return on their own volition to their homelands with new skills and insights.  Today entrance and egress are xenophobically different. The Trump administration makes it clear the drawbridge is raised except for special skills needed, as defined by American industrial leaders or by Kushner family dealmakers in China

The upshot seems to be that death and destruction will remain in the region where the disaster exists but with  help from outside mainly in the form of money flowing in.  It’s a Band-Aid for the conscience.

Much of the arms deal with the Saudis had been years in the making and the goodies may not be totally legal to Congress if the Saudis use American armament in its war in Yemen. The deal is most notable by offering Saudis jobs in our weapons of medium destruction industry. 

There is no credit to past administrations and won’t be because the hosts are playing nice with the new team and the new guys don’t want to hear anything good about the old team.  Bibi is just glad Obama is gone, perhaps because Trump looks far more malleable. He certainly downplayed any unhappiness in the Israeli intelligence community because Trump revealed to the Russians ISIS plans that could only have come from foreign implants (revealed by news sources as Israel).  Now no one ever accused Trump of naming Israel but he repeated that falsehood often as some strange justification for his loose lips. 

Other than that, he acted responsibly, at least like a celebrity tourist dropping in on the 19th hole.  That will get him good marks back home until you peel away what it is really saying about his US.

Because the first part of the trip was about class and class structure. Jews are fine because they have  a homeland to go to. Rich oil-drenched Muslims are fine and know best how to keep their people in check, they don’t need our advice.  Refugees,  those hungering for personal freedom and those shoved aside  by isolationist policies may be rich targets for ISIS, but they continue to be the ignored targets for Trump -- the people he thinks should be driven out to someplace other than the establishment palaces.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for  

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