President Trump’s coming swing through Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican is a signal that the United States is moving away from “disengagement” in world affairs, a senior administration official said Thursday.
The official’s comment marks another change from Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Trump used a Rose Garden ceremony about a religious freedom-themed executive order to announce the three-country trip, which will come just before his participation in NATO and G7 summits in Europe. Minutes later, senior administration officials described the Saudi-Israeli-Vatican leg as the onetime isolationist candidate’s global coming party.
One of the senior officials told reporters the three-country tour will “reverse a trend for America’s disengagement” in the Middle East and beyond during the Obama administration.
Another senior administration official declared the United States is “regaining strategic competence,” due to Trump and his team. A big reason why, according to the second senior official, is Trump’s “willingness” to use U.S. military force like he did in early April, when he lobbed 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Syria to counter Bashar Assad’s use of deadly chemical weapons on his own people.
This self-described renewed “competence” is also rooted in the new administration sitting down with allies and also looking to put together “new partnerships” to tackle challenges and threats like “Salafi jihadists,” the Islamic State, Iran, and “other murderous regimes in the region,” the second senior official said.
As a candidate, Trump vowed to get and keep America out of foreign conflicts, and focus on rebuilding what he saw as a depleted and crumbling United States. This was a big part of his “America first” sales pitch to voters, which he has cast as the basis of his government philosophy.
Trump himself declared in February during an address to a joint session of Congress that he was unlikely to deploy U.S. ground forces and their ships, vehicles, aircraft, and other weapon systems to the region. As on the campaign trail, he seemed to express that same sentiment about other regions, as well.
“I will not allow the mistakes of recent decades past to define the course of our future. For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries,” he said standing in the House chamber. “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land.
“We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate,” Trump told lawmakers. “And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”
The “America first” message and approach is “completely compatible” with reasserting America’s heft on the global stage — and unleashing its military power when Trump deems it appropriate or necessary, the second senior administration official said Thursday.
In recent weeks, the president has changed his tune on his Chinese counterpart, the Import-Export Bank, Canada, using military force in Syria, terminating NAFTA, and other issues.