Measured and diplomatic Trump enjoys his Middle East adventure

Becky Anderson says that US president Donald Trump's first trip overseas was a huge success despite his opponents' scepticism

Donald Trump holds a sword and sways with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony in Riyadh. Evan Vucci / AP Photo
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After a tumultuous period at home in the United States, a tricky trip to the Middle East for Donald Trump might not have been high on White House wishlists. After his searing rhetoric on the campaign trail, and the ongoing controversy around his travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, the potential pitfalls were clear.

But if Mr Trump’s opponents in Washington were hoping that the president’s first overseas trip would offer up fresh material with which to attack him, they have been disappointed.

From the moment that the president and first lady arrived on Saudi Arabian soil, the thickest of red carpets has been rolled out before them.

The richness of the welcome afforded to the US delegation by the Saudis was matched only by the vastness of the record $110 billion arms deal that was signed between the two countries. The celebrations were extravagant and apparently heartfelt, with King Salman himself even teaching Mr Trump the correct way to drink Saudi coffee.

For his part, Mr Trump’s response to all of this has arguably made him look more presidential than at any point in his often chaotic-seeming tenure.

This was a completely different Mr Trump to the one Americans have become used to home turf.

Measured, diplomatic, shorn of the bombast that usually accompanies his speeches, here was a leader seemingly more at home overseas than on Capitol Hill.

Mr Trump’s speeches, which focused on peace, moderation, mutual respect and collaboration, could almost have been delivered by his predecessor.

For a man who had proclaimed just months ago that “Islam hates us”, the difference could scarcely have been more marked.

Even his passage from Saudi Arabia to Israel was laden with progressive symbolism. No diplomatic ties exist between the two countries, so travel between them is convoluted. The press pack following the US delegation made its way to Tel Aviv via Cyprus. Mr Trump, however, flew direct from Riyadh.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been perhaps Mr Trump’s most outspoken supporter, so there was little surprise at the warm welcome waiting for him when he landed.

As well as becoming the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, he was told by Mr Netanyahu that his presence gave Israel “hope for change” in the peace process. Not to be outdone, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas also made positive noises.

Missing from all of this was Iran, fresh from re-electing Hassan Rouhani, who has won a second term as president from a people apparently keen to build bridges with the West. Mr Trump has used this trip as a platform to ratchet up pressure on Iran, casting it as a common enemy. Some question the logic of his implacable stance at a time when democratically elected, progressive leadership appears to be gaining a strong foothold there.

Nevertheless, for a president in need of a positive story, this trip has been a considerable tonic. Of course, if the last few months are anything to go by, that could quickly change, but an embattled White House must at least be glad of the rest.

Becky Anderson presents Connect the World on CNN International