Stay overseas, Mr. President, something good can happen.
A week ago it was a slow news weekend, so President Donald Trump’s first trip to a foreign country was well covered. All American eyes were on the president as he was greeted by King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman of Saudi Arabia in what can only be described as a most warm and hopeful welcome in Riyadh.
There was pomp, there was circumstance, there were plenty of gold adornments and, yes, an incredibly strong dose of irony, but President Trump’s visit did two very important things for his young and, so far, very troubled presidency.
First, it got him out of Washington, away from his Twitter finger and far away from the reality of congressional hearings, news story after news story of increasing involvement between his campaign and the Russian bear’s meddling in our elections, and thousands of miles away from a special counsel determined to turn over all the rocks on the road to determining what, if anything, Trumpland had to do with Putinland.
It was a safe haven, if you will, in one of the most unsafe parts of our world. And it was, at its core, a picture of what the United States president should be doing — and that would be the best that he can to bring peace to a world where very little exists.
That brings me to the second thing that President Trump did.
He brought some hope where there has been too little for too long to the idea that peace — real, sincere and lasting peace — can become a reality in the unreal world that is the Middle East. In that regard, for however much of a long shot Trump’s effort might be, he gets good marks.
In elementary school they give a good grade for just showing up. In the Middle East, any American president who commits to do what he can to bring peace where none exists deserves a very high grade.
The contrast to what Trump does at home and what he did in his travels in the Middle East is stark. It is almost as if he was a very different person who was conducting foreign policy in a place where the stakes are all too high compared to the fellow who stays up late in the White House tweeting his childish displeasure at those who not only disagree with him but who have the temerity to even think about questioning his American bona fides.
The president got it right, I believe, when he decided that the key to Middle East peace ran through Riyadh. This isn’t the first time the Saudi king has been at the tip of the Arab spear when it comes to leading the charge toward peace with Israel and away from the terrorism that has defined that part of the world and its sponsors.
It should not be lost on anyone that so many of the leaders from the 50 Arab countries or so that were assembled at the call of the Saudi king on the shortest of notice came to hear what the U.S. president had to say. Forty years ago something similar happened when the then-Saudi King Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud helped lead a secret negotiation the could lead to peace with Israel. The times were different as were the challenges, but what has remained the same is the linchpin status of Saudi Arabia when it comes to talk of peace in that part of the world.
In 1977, Iran and Iraq held each other at bay in their quest for supremacy in the Arab world. The Cold War was raging and the sides were pretty clear — the Soviet Union had its friends and the U.S. had ours. Yes, Iran and America were once friends.
The outline for peace in 1977 with Israel was about the same as it is now, except now Egypt and Jordan have actually agreed to live in peace and, for the most part, have been keeping their word, even when it has been difficult to do so. What has been missing all these years is an incentive for the rest of the Arab world to agree with what has been attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, “Peace with Israel will come when the Arabs decide they love their children more than they hate ours.”
What President Trump’s people know is what has been clear for a long time. It has little to do with the love of children — although that should be a universal theme — and more to do with the fear of Iran.
In “The Haj,” author Leon Uris wrote in 1984 about the great challenge of the Arab world. In an almost Hatfield vs. McCoy type of comparison, Uris explained that there was a constant tension among and between Arabs. If it wasn’t brother against brother or town against town, it was country against country — all in the name of some religious or other slight that occurred long before any of the living combatants were born and about which very few of those fighting could even describe.
And all of it was happening in a world that takes comfort in ignoring the reality of living in the 21st century.
What we saw and heard in that incredible assemblage last week was the reality of an entire Sunni Arab world recognizing that its battle for survival against a majority Shiite Arab world led by the mischievous mullahs of Iran could only be successful if the Sunnis joined with the United States — and, by extension, with Israel.
President Trump has recognized this dramatic opportunity and chosen to try to move the peace ball forward, even if it means ignoring the obvious shortcomings of countries around that room that condone and pay for terrorism. But that activity was yesterday. And today presents an opportunity to change the facts on the ground.
We can isolate Iran — and its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah — make peace with Israel by letting the Saudis and others hold the Palestinians to account until a lasting peace treaty with two states has been signed and guaranteed, and then turn the United States’ attention toward bigger fish in Asia, Russia and other places that define our national interests.
That is a good plan, I believe. It won’t be easy. And it won’t happen quickly — if at all. But we have to give this latest peace effort by the United States a chance. And we have to give credit where it is due: President Trump may be onto something big in the Middle East.
And that stands in such sharp contrast to all the things he makes so small here at home.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.