Foon Rhee

President Donald Trump, the ugly American abroad

The last few years, my big annual vacation has taken me to Europe – including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Brussels and Paris. The trips have been wonderful, but there’s been this strange coincidence that wherever I go, there’s a terrorist attack there soon after.

Donald Trump was all about terrorism during his nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe that ended Saturday. That made some sense because of the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Still, he’s leader of the free world and we need a far broader, smarter foreign policy than just fighting terror.

Since World War II, America has helped keep the peace and had influence in the world through its generosity and ideals, not just its military might. Yet while Trump traveled abroad, his team sent a budget to Congress that would slash spending on foreign aid and diplomacy by nearly $19 billion, or about one-third. Trump also wants to cut U.S. aid to global health programs by about one-fourth, while boosting defense spending by more than $50 billion, or 10 percent.

Trump’s trip was another warning that no matter how much California tries to have its say in the world, it can’t conduct its own foreign policy. It’s at the mercy of the president, and right now it’s someone whose views are at odds with the state’s best interests.

Consider climate change. Gov. Jerry Brown is headed to China later this week to cement ties on global warming and clean energy. Some European leaders urged Trump not to pull out of the landmark Paris accord. Yet he refused to support a joint statement ending the G-7 summit.

If you wished that Trump would magically transform his policies and personality on his first overseas trip as president, you were sorely disappointed.

We saw more outlandish promises (lasting Middle East peace) and preposterous claims (saving millions of U.S. jobs), and little evidence of a long-term strategy.

In his major speech to Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia, Trump called on them to help lead the fight against terrorism, but gave them a free pass on freedom and human rights. In the age-old battle with Shiite Muslims, he put America on the side of Sunnis, though both the Islamic State and al-Qaida are Sunni terrorist groups.

In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, Trump probably enjoyed being treated royally and avoiding tough questions. Press access was severely limited on the trip, and he didn’t hold a single news conference.

Despite the scripted appearances, he couldn’t avoid the occasional gaffe. Upon arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, he told his flummoxed hosts that “we just got back from the Middle East.”

He also caused a stir by scolding NATO allies about their military spending, while not standing up for the common defense clause that has been invoked only once – after 9/11 when NATO troops fought alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan. No wonder that after the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Europe can no longer rely as much on America and “must take our fate into our own hands.”

Then Trump had those truly bizarre moments in Brussels: his death-grip handshake with new French President Emmanuel Macron, and his shoving aside Montenegro’s leader to get to the front of the pack.

If he had been a regular tourist and not president, we’d say Trump was the stereotypical rude American abroad.

When I travel, I try to learn about different cultures and be gracious to my hosts. Hopefully, I’m more worldly and a better person when I return home.

Unfortunately for us, the same Donald Trump is back in the White House. That became clear with another anti-media Twitter tirade on Sunday as he hunkers down for the Russia investigation.

Trump called his trip a “home run,” but I don’t think he gained very much wisdom, and definitely not humility. He could have saved us a bunch of money by just staying home.