President Donald Trump arrived at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland Thursday a man on a mission: to demonstrate his prowess on the world stage to a mountain town full of political and business leaders skeptical of his administration.
In a pair of bilateral meetings with the prime ministers of Great Britain and Israel, Trump touted his White House’s warm ties with each nation, both longtime steadfast U.S. allies. As he entered the forum’s hall, Trump declared that he had arrived with a message of “peace and prosperity.” He basked in warm praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seemingly sought to smooth a reported rift in his relationship with his British counterpart, Theresa May.
That Trump was in attendance at Davos, considered a meeting of international elites where globalism is often championed, seemed strange for a president who campaigned on and has governed with an “America first” agenda that is skeptical of multinational trade agreements and of U.S. participation in international organizations like the United Nations. Trump is the first U.S. president to attend the annual gathering in Switzerland since Bill Clinton did so in 2000, his final year in office.
But while Trump’s particular style of politics continues to rattle the international political and economic types who regularly attend Davos, the first year of his presidency seems to have calmed some, at least in the latter group. The U.S. economy has performed well through Trump’s first year in office, as have other prominent economies worldwide. Many at Davos predicted that the tax cut and reform legislation signed by the president last year will further spur the U.S. economy.
Still, Trump’s bombast continues to stir nervousness and the president is not generally highly regarded among those flocking to the Swiss ski town this week. Trump is scheduled to give a speech Friday at the forum, for which Marietje Schaake, a prominent Dutch politician in the European Parliament, offered this prediction: “With low expectations, it will not take much to exceed them,” adding that “at the end of the day, while words matter, actions always speak louder than words.”
With May, Britain’s prime minister, Trump offered the pool of reporters traveling with him at the forum in Davos assurances that the pair continues to share “a really great relationship,” that he has “tremendous respect” for his British counterpart and that “the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot.”
Trump said the U.S. and Britain are “joined at the hip” on military issues and told May “there’s nothing that would happen to you that we won't be there to fight for you. You know that.”
The president’s reassurances follow a relatively rocky patch in the U.S.-U.K. “special relationship” that included Trump’s abrupt cancellation of a trip to London (placing the blame for that cancellation, incorrectly, on his predecessor, Barack Obama) and his sharing on Twitter of anti-Muslim videos posted by a leader from a British far-right, ultranationalist group. The latter offense earned Trump a rebuke from a May spokesman.
With Netanyahu, the conversation in front of the cameras focused largely on the president’s announcement last month that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of moving its embassy there. Netanyahu heaped praise on the president for the controversial decision, criticized even by close U.S. allies, telling him that the decision would be “forever etched on the hearts of our people for generations to come.”
While Trump’s bombastic style, unpredictability and willingness to diverge from the norms of past White House occupants has seemingly injected doubt into U.S. relationships around the globe, the president’s stridently pro-Israel positions have strengthened the bond between the two nations, which sunk to a low point during the Obama administration.
Netanyahu in particular praised Trump for the skeptical eye with which he has viewed the landmark nuclear agreement the U.S. helped negotiate with Iran, telling the president and the assembled media that Israel would “back you all the way” should he decide to pull the U.S. from the agreement championed by Obama’s White House.
“I've never seen the realistic alliance between the United States, Israel and your other allies in the region as strong, as unified as it is under your leadership,” Netanyahu said. “As you finish your first year in office, I want to say that I look forward to continuing our remarkable, tremendous friendship in the years ahead, and I want to express the appreciation of the people of Israel to you. Thank you, Mr. President.”