President Trump is scheduled to depart Friday on his first international trip as president, with scheduled visits in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, and the Vatican, followed by attendance at meetings of NATO in Brussels and the G7 alliance in Sicily. Talking to reporters this morning, national security adviser H.R. McMaster brushed off questions about Trump’s sharing of classified information with Russian officials, focusing instead on the trip’s purpose to “highlight the need for unity among three of the world’s great religions” and further “an agenda of tolerance.”
But less than two hours after McMaster spoke, the New York Times reported this afternoon that Israel is the ally whose intelligence Trump inappropriately shared with Russian officials. Although Israel would not confirm the report, it would, if true, vindicate the fears of Israeli intelligence officials who warned, even before Trump took office, that intelligence shared with the United States could be leaked to Russia, and potentially passed on to Iran.
Here’s the upshot of all this: Trump’s trip must be canceled. Our national security, our relationships with allies, and the security of the world are at risk due to the president’s erratic behavior and inability to adhere to basic norms of both democracy and diplomacy.
Even for a capable president, Trump’s itinerary would represent an ambitious agenda. In Trump’s hands, though, it’s fraught with the perils of tweets, statements, misstatements, boasts or other inappropriate Trump outbursts that could trigger or intensify geopolitical and religious tensions. Beyond politics, the idea that Trump is capable of promoting even an iota of religious tolerance is almost too absurd to even address.
In short, the trip is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
First, and most crucially, revelations about Trump’s conduct over the past 24 hours have rightly spooked our allies. After yesterday’s blockbuster Post article exposing Trump’s cavalier sharing of classified information with Russian officials, the White House has not taken a single step to reassure them, such as publicly acknowledging Trump’s conduct and promising it won’t happen again.
Instead, the White House’s efforts at damage control have only made matters worse. The White House hasn’t meaningfully denied the story; it has only denied that Trump did anything wrong. Today, after Trump tweeted that he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” with Russian officials, McMaster seemed to acknowledge that the story was indeed true, but that what Trump did was “wholly appropriate.”
But Trump’s loose lips may have endangered the life of an intelligence source and that person’s family, and it certainly is already damaging our relationships and crucial intelligence-sharing arrangements with allies, according to Stephen Tankel, a defense and national security expert writing at The Post’s Monkey Cage blog.
What’s more, the story is alienating allies. “If it proves to be true that the American president passed on internal intelligence matters, that would be highly worrying,” a senior German lawmaker told the Associated Press. A second European official warned that Trump’s actions may complicate intelligence-sharing with the United States. And by undermining allies’ trust in his ability to keep sensitive information secret, Trump is putting obstacles in the way of the counterterrorism fight. Because Trump is prone to off-the-cuff remarks, even a single misstep during his trip abroad (particularly as he is trying to engage in diplomacy) could further inflame these relationships.
Second, Trump’s justification by tweet this morning — that “I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism” — reveals his utter lack of understanding of who precisely our allies are in the fight against ISIS. (Or, worse, it perhaps reveals a desire to realign those alliances.)
“The idea that Russia is going to be a responsible partner in the future of Syria is belied by years and years of facts on the ground,” Sen. Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat, said at a panel at the Center for American Progress this morning. “We have been trying to get the Russians to be a meaningful partner inside Syria, and they end up doing more damage than good.” On his trip abroad, Trump could further alienate Middle Eastern allies simply by continuing to press his view that Russia could be an ally in the fight against ISIS.
Third, McMaster’s own admission to reporters today that “the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from,” which was intended as a rationale, only demonstrates further why Trump cannot be trusted with any sensitive information, classified or not. And it further proves he’s winging it in nearly every setting, whether it’s Twitter, television interviews or meetings with foreign leaders.
Trump will be winging it during his trip to Israel, too — and in the polarized Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even seemingly small missteps relating to issues like the status of Jerusalem can set off violence. It’s not an exaggeration to say that lives are at stake. On this front, other warning signs of Trump’s lack of preparedness are in full view: Trump’s team has managed, over the past several days, to alarm Israeli officials with bizarre lapses in basic protocol and erratic statements on Trump’s own policy positions, including on the question of whether the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Given Team Trump’s lack of preparedness and expertise in the White House and State Department, it’s not unreasonable to expect that further gaffes of this nature are possible during his trip abroad.
That brings us to the final reason why this trip is quite possibly the most ill-conceived misadventure in the history of American diplomacy. Trump, McMaster told us this morning, will give a speech in Saudi Arabia about Islam and religious tolerance.
It is virtually unfathomable that Trump, whose first months in office have been dominated by his (disguised) effort to keep Muslims out of the United States, could give a speech anywhere in the Muslim world on Islam and have it be well-received. Trump, after all, once told the Christian Broadcasting Network that the Koran teaches “a very negative vibe.”
It’s hard to imagine Trump exercising sufficient self-control to emerge from an eight-day trip overseas without incident. He can barely go 24 hours without incident under normal circumstances. The best way to prevent more Trump damage is to keep him home.