The entire world will be holding its collective breath for the next week, watching to see if their leaders—and White House staff—are up to the most important and fraught babysitting job ever undertaken: popular vote loser Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president. Regime staff are making sure the schedule allows for a lot of “downtime.” Foreign leaders are busy preparing presentations for Trump with lots of pictures and small bits of information and even making sure that his favorite food—steak and ketchup—will always be available. No, really. And that’s not the most embarrassing part.
For foreign leaders trying to figure out the best way to approach an American president unlike any they have known, it is a time of experimentation. Embassies in Washington trade tips and ambassadors send cables to presidents and ministers back home suggesting how to handle a mercurial, strong-willed leader with no real experience on
world stage, a preference for personal diplomacy and a taste for glitz.
After four months of interactions between Mr. Trump and his counterparts, foreign officials and their Washington consultants say certain rules have emerged: Keep it short—no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.
World leaders have figured out quickly that flattering Trump is the only way to deal with him, well, that and making sure they don’t tell him anything complicated. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has learned that stoking his ego works. “When she planned to travel to Saudi Arabia last month, she called Mr. Trump first, ostensibly to ask his advice—counsel that after 12 years in office she hardly needed from a diplomatic novice.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has another approach, and “has emphasized his relationship with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, going back to when the young man was a child.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been extra nice to Ivanka Trump, taking her to a Broadway show.