In trip abroad, Trump finds respite from domestic turmoil

Donald Trump's first presidential foreign trip has fortuitously given him a temporary respite from the firestorm generated by what he has called "that Russian thing" and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Much of the tenacious Washington press corps that has had a field day back home found itself in the last week on unfamiliar ground, whether traveling with the president or left behind. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump took cover in the elaborate and elegant trappings of Arab royalty, and of what the rest of the world calls the Holy Land and the Vatican.


The trip to the Middle East and the Mediterranean may have caused him to tone down somewhat his penchant for braggadocio. Still, he continued his customary promises to bring great new jobs not only to the folks at home but also to millions in his host countries, with his self-celebrated art of the deal.

Mr. Trump's political entourage for once had a modicum of the adult about it, including worldly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, no stranger to the majesties of the Middle Eastern oil kingdoms. Two highly respected military generals, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, have been on the trip to lend seasoning, in contrast to the Keystone Kops in charge of the Trump White House charade.


Conspicuous also has been Melania Trump, who, in keeping with the practice of preivous first ladies, eschewed the strict Muslim dress code requiring a covered female head but otherwise glided glamorously through the various palace halls. She seemed regally at home compared to her hulking, portly mate in Western mufti, lumbering amid the ancients in various headdress and robes.

The president, who back home feels free to tell whoppers about everything from his own misstatements to his crude personal insults against the press and women, temporarily took to the high road, especially with Pope Francis. At the outset of the trip, Mr. Trump professed his respect for all religions, calling for unity among them amid a "crisis of Islamic extremism" and a "wave of fanatical violence" besieging the world's largest religion.

Mr. Trump kicked off his visit to Saudi Arabia insisting: This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil." He sought to rally all faiths against the radical Islamic State that has taken hold in the region.

Mr. Trump steered clear, however, of his proposed travel ban on Muslims from six specified Middle East countries, which was blocked in U.S. courts as unconstitutional.

He said: "We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do or how to worship. We are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values." But then he urged his hosts, referring to Islamist terrorists in the Middle East: "Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this Earth."

Mr. Trump moved on to Israel and then the Palestinian Authority for separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With both of them, the American president's self-styled mastery of the deal faces its sternest test.

On the table remains the proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution backed by former President Barack Obama but steadfastly opposed by the Israeli government absent Palestinian recognition of Israel. Mr. Abbas told Mr. Trump: "Once again, we reassert to you our positions of accepting the two-state solution along the borders of 1967, the state of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem living alongside Israel in peace and security."

But Mr. Trump reiterated his intention to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a most contentious issue with the Palestinians. For all his stated confidence that he can pull off the deal, he cited the determination of Israel's enemies to destroy Israel and added: "Not with Donald J. Trump. Believe me."


Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is