Presidential maiden voyages

Israel is an integral focus of world affairs.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The most important rule of international diplomacy is not to get a bloated head and always know and understand your true worth.
Israel is an integral focus of world affairs.
Some countries and their leaders may be unhappy about that fact, but they cannot dispute its veracity. It is truly astonishing how much of the world’s attention is heaped on the little Jewish country in the Middle East.
US President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel is not about politics, it is about impressions.
And that’s one of the reasons it is so impressive that, on his first international trip, the US president put Israel on the itinerary. Trump, by his sheer presence, is underscoring the importance of Israel as a world player. He is signaling that Israel is important to the United States and that Israel plays a role in the way America views the world.
Saudi Arabia clearly also holds this valued position. Obviously, President Trump sees a significant Saudi role in helping solve the “huge” problems Trump wants to confront.
That is a very good, even enviable, position to hold. Forget that people bemoan the fact that Israel is often subjected to a double standards or put under a microscope – there are 195 nations (or entities) in the world, and Israel is one of the chosen on this heralded, talked about, debated, vilified, scrutinized but most of all historic trip.
Different methods are used to count the number of countries in our world and there are different opinions about what it takes to make the list. The Holy See and the Palestinian Authority are counted but they are not actual countries. So often the number 193 rather than 195 is cited. The United Nations, for example, will not count Taiwan as a nation because it is said to be represented by the People’s Republic of China.
The nation of Israel, with a population of 8.3 million, is the 93rd most populated nation in the world, just a little larger than Honduras, Papa New Guinea, Jordan, Togo and Laos. And yet, the US president thought it important to make Israel a stop on this, his first, out-of-the-box, official state trip. Trump is a man who, with his own unique style and attitude, breaks with tradition and this trip is, in almost all ways, another break with the traditional.
US presidential trips have been going on for over a century. And while all US presidential trips are important, it is the maiden voyage that sets the agenda for the coming years.
Teddy Roosevelt was the first US president to travel while in office. In those days it was much harder to travel than it is today.
In 1906 Roosevelt traveled to Panama to inspect the progress on the Panama Canal.
He departed on November 9, arrived on the 14th, and returned to the US on November 26. The trip was nearly three weeks long, but the visit was worth it. The Panama Canal would connect the Atlantic with the Pacific, digging 76 km. through the isthmus of Central America. It would revolutionize shipping and president Roosevelt needed to be there to lend support. Presidents Taft and Harding visited the Panama Canal for the same reason even after it was open and operating.
On May 5, 1977, president Jimmy Carter went to England to attend the G-7 meeting.
From then on, the first trip has always been to the neighboring countries Mexico or Canada.
President Barack Obama embarked on his first visit to Canada on February 19, 2009.
On February 16, 2001, president George W.
Bush visited Mexico. President Bill Clinton visited Canada on April 3 in 1993. President George H.W. Bush visited Canada on February 10, 1989, and on February 5, 1981, president Ronald Reagan traveled to Mexico on his maiden voyage as president.
When a US president visits his neighbors he is clearly indicating the importance of local issues and shared borders. Trump’s message stretches further. With his decision to visit the centers of the three monotheistic religions – Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican – the president is sending the message that the religious establishment and its leaders must unite against extremism.
This presidential trip is packed with more than simply meetings with world leaders. Trump is using his travel package as a fulcrum to leverage his international influence. He is trying to inspire and to motivate. He is building a team. Trump is traveling to convince people around the world that he has the wherewithal and the power to shape world events and to solve vexing issues.
Only time will tell if this highly ambitious Trump plan will succeed. This trip has the power – both for better or worse – to shape the Trump presidency. This trip is putting the issue of terrorism and Islamic extremism front and center. That is a message that should resonate with every one of the 195 countries, not only with the chosen few.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.