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May 15, 2017


“It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child.”

By Abigail Tracy

Presidential trips abroad are notoriously grueling affairs. Schedules are constrained, support staff are limited, and the travel itself takes a physical toll. Jet lag and fatigue are exacerbated by the need to keep local commitments and stay up-to-date with news developments at home. The psychological burden involved in conducting diplomacy with multiple foreign partners across multiple time zones is exhausting, and the potential for mistakes is high. Creature comforts, such as those familiar to President Donald Trump, are in short supply.

Most important, international summits are boring. So it should not come as any surprise that NATO leaders are reportedly pulling out all the stops to make sure that America’s infamously thin-skinned, attention-deficit president is kept engaged and entertained when he lands in Brussels on May 24 for the fourth leg of an itinerary that includes Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Rome, before ending with a G7 meeting in Sicily.

“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” one source briefed on the meeting’s preparations told Foreign Policy, explaining how members of the 28-nation military alliance are preparing to kid-proof Trump’s experience. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child—someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing.”

The stakes could not be higher for the president’s first international tour. On the campaign trail, Trump turned the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into one of his favorite punching bags—right up there with trade deals, Hillary Clinton, and Mexico. He repeatedly derided the Cold War-era pact as “obsolete” and criticized U.S. allies for not paying their dues, all while extolling the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has made weakening the alliance one of his primary foreign policy goals. In early April, Trump seemed to have a change of heart, explaining that the nearly 70-year-old alliance was “no longer obsolete” thanks to him. But NATO members remain on edge, unsure of the president’s commitment.

In their effort to make the usually stuffy affair exciting enough to hold the interest of a easily distracted septuagenarian whose media diet consists primarily of cable news and who prefers “as little as possible” in his daily intelligence briefings, NATO organizers are reportedly asking heads of state to limit themselves to two-to-four minutes of discussion time. “Even a brief NATO summit is way too stiff, too formal, and too policy heavy for Trump. Trump is not going to like that,” Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with Washington think tank the Atlantic Council, told Foreign Policy.

NATO is also jettisoning the post-meeting readout, known as a declaration, which traditionally outlines the alliance’s strategic stance. One NATO official told F.P. that the decision to scrap the declaration was rooted in the fact that the meeting isn’t a full summit, telling the outlet, “This meeting is just much more focused.” But other officials credited the change to Trump’s incoherent foreign policy toward Europe, explaining simply that “they’re worried Trump won’t like it.”

Inauguration Crowd-Size Debacle

It took less than two days after his inauguration for Trump to hit his first speed bump. After photos revealed a drastically smaller crowd at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s first, Trump griped about the coverage during a speech at the C.I.A., and claimed that “a million and a half people” showed up. He later backed down from the remarks, but not before two things happened. First, the world was introduced to Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, whose first, apoplectic, rumpled press briefing became a flashpoint of its own. And second, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway introduced “alternative facts” into the lexicon.

Courts Block Trump Immigration Ban, Part I

In its unanimous ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate Trump’s original controversial executive order on immigration, which would have suspended travel by non-U.S. citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. In a rebuke of the White House, the court argued that the travel ban violated due process and was based on religious discrimination.

Comrade Mike Flynn Resigns

Less than one month into Trump’s presidency, his national security adviser, Mike Flynn, resigned in scandal after it was revealed that he had discussed the sanctions against Moscow with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration—contrary to what he told White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn has remained a primary character in the enduring Trump-Russia melodrama—most recently coming under scrutiny for failing to disclose payments from the Russian and Turkish governments before joining the Trump administration.

Jeff Sessions Gets Ensnared

Facing escalating pressure on Capitol Hill after it was reported that he met with Sergey Kislyak—the man at center of Flynn’s downfall—twice last year, U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the ongoing F.B.I. probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government. Sessions’s announcement reportedly blindsided and infuriated Trump, prompting him leave Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus behind when he took off for Mar-a-Lago.

Sanctuary Cities E.O. Blocked

A few months after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shot down his travel ban, Trump lashed out at another judge who blocked the administration from stripping federal funding from cities that did not comply with anti-immigration laws. The judge who ruled in the case was not a circuit judge—William Orrick, in fact, is a district judge—but that didn’t stop Trump from threatening to break up the Ninth Circuit altogether, a pre-emptive strike as an appeal of Orrick’s ruling could end up in the circuit court.

Health-Care Failure, Part II

Once Trump seemingly realized the gravity of his failure to pass a health-care reform bill in the House, the White House quietly tried to resurrect the zombie “Trumpcare” bill as it scrambled to secure a legislative win for Trump before the 100-day mark. The effort failed again—miserably.

Trump Realizes That The Presidency Is Hard

This was not so much one defining moment, as it was a slow buildup of smaller moments: that time he realized repealing and replacing Obamacare would be difficult (“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” That time he realized that China could not curb the nuclear threat of North Korea by itself (“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy”). But what started off as a Politico report about the frustrations of our president, grew and grew over the past three months and culminated in the perfect statement, given to Reuters, on Day 98: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

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