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High hopes for Trump’s first trip abroad hindered with mishaps and blunders in Israel
President Trump’s trip to the Middle East is the president’s first trip abroad and it is supposed to be a reset for an administration struggling for good press.
Trump left what he calls a “witch hunt” – that is, independent counsel investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia after he tried to obstruct the investigation – and his administration had high hopes abroad.
But that reset may have been hindered by the president himself, particularly when talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.
From a PR perspective, there have been some positives for Trump. Saudi Arabia gave the president an extravagant greeting, including a golden necklace and the signing of a $110 billion arms deal. Trump also appeared to have softened stance on Islam – notably shying away from the words Radical Islamic Terrorist – a longstanding criticism he’s had of his Democratic opponents.
Similarly, in Israel, Trump met with Netanyahu and became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall. The two leaders talked about the dangers of Iran and the continuing “difficult” friction between Israel and Palestine.
Both hosting nations – Saudia Arabia and Israel – flattered him with the reverence and respect he wishes he were shown stateside and let him flex his choreographed “dealmaking skills”. However, there was one moment in particular where the president’s dealmaking skills fell through and the domestic scandals showed through a sit down with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
An Awkward Moment with Netanyahu
Trump and Netanyahu were comfortably talking about his visit to the western wall, uniting against a common enemy, Iran, and decrying the agreement made between Iran and Trump’s predecessor, President Obama.
The meeting ended and the two took a final photo opportunity to shake hands as reporters shouted out questions about recent reports that Trump had divulged secret codewords about ISIS to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in a closed door meeting on May 10. The intelligence came from an Israeli source, according to reports.
To rebut the buzzing inquiries Netanyahu yells “intelligence cooperation is terrific!” which did little to calm the frenzy of curious reporters. Never one to let an accusation go unanswered, Trump teed himself up to make a dramatic pronouncement:
“Just so you understand,” he says, quieting the press, “just so you understand — I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it.” Netanyahu’s eyes darted left and right, panicking.
The context for this statement is baffling. For one thing, the reports didn’t say the president mentioned Israel to the Russians, only that he divulged intelligence that came from an Israeli source. Another point is that Trump never confirmed nor denied that the meeting concerned those secrets… until this gaffe.
The final and most confusing part was why he spoke at all. This trip was supposed to move the conversation away from mounting scandals at home, and with little prompting, Trump derailed his message as a shrewd deal maker and brought his own scandal back into the conversation.
Other moments Trump slipped up was when, in Saudi Arabia, he intended to say “Islamist extremism” but instead he said “Islamic extremism,” and in Israel – he said he had just gotten “back from the Middle East.” These slip ups have continued a pattern of overall sloppiness that has followed the White House overseas.