For national security adviser H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s first overseas trip is about proclaiming the return of America’s global leadership.
The president’s nine-day, five-country trip to the Middle East and Europe, which begins Friday, will “reverse a trend of America’s disengagement from the world and from the world’s biggest problems,” Lt. Gen. McMaster said recently.
The challenge Mr. Trump faces, however, is that the leaders he will meet with and the publics he’ll address in the two regions he’ll visit are looking for different things from America and will have very different aspirations for US leadership.
On part one, which begins Saturday in Saudi Arabia, security will be front and center, and Middle Eastern leaders from Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf states to Israel will be looking for security assurances and pledges of American hard power.
For the second half, in Europe, security (and counterterrorism) issues will also be on the agenda – but hovering in the background will be questions about common values and to what degree Trump’s America will continue to champion those values around the world, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
“This will be President Trump’s inaugural stride across the global stage, so the leaders and the publics in the regions he’ll visit are going to try to get a read on what he stands for and what he doesn’t stand for,” says Charles Kupchan, who was a Europe specialist on President Obama’s National Security Council.
“In the Gulf monarchies in particular there will be relief that they are welcoming a president who appears to be exclusively focused on strategic cooperation and not on issues like human rights and how countries run their domestic affairs,” says Dr. Kupchan, now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
But in Europe, even if the conversations are focused on issues like NATO burden-sharing,…