President Donald Trump awaits the arrival of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the White House in Washington. Picture: AP
Donald Trump's administration is set to honour some of the last remaining vestiges of authoritarianism on the planet, and call for their preservation, writes Azad Essa.

Since entering office, Donald Trump has defied several norms and customs associated with the US presidency.

And his first official state visit this Friday will be no exception.

Instead of visiting neighbouring Canada or Mexico, the former reality TV star will fly halfway across the world and meet leaders from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab nations and Israel.

On a trip that is likely to form the arc of his foreign policy, his first state visit to Saudi Arabia is both remarkable and yet unsurprising.

Arms and more arms

On Friday, Trump is scheduled to hold three meetings in Riyadh; the first with Mohammed bin Salman, a Saudi prince and de facto leader of the monarchy.

The second meeting will see Trump meet leaders from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and finally with a cohort of up to 56 Arab and Muslim leaders.

“It is [in Saudi Arabia] we will begin to construct a new foundation of co-operation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence,” Trump said of his planned trip.

Lest we forget, this is a kingdom that refuses to register political or human rights groups, bans civil society groups, where women are ineligible to drive and need guardians to go with them to job interviews.

If the Trump administration has any strong words for the Saudi monarchy, and this is a big IF, rest assured this will take place behind closed door and be accompanied by doublespeak.

Rather, Trump will look to consolidate nefarious American ties with dictators and authoritarians in the Middle East, which, in truth, is a lot more honest than the innocuous side-eye of the Obama years.

But it goes a lot further.

This administration is set to honour some of the last remaining vestiges of authoritarianism on the planet, and call for their preservation.

Trump’s disinterest in connecting with the Arab public is no different to his disregard for his own people back home.

Any criticism levelled at him is “fake news”, tough questions are cut to size and press conferences an exercise in comic relief.

Instability in Yemen

By the time Trump arrives in Riyadh, the US government would have approved $100bn arms agreement with the Saudis. In so doing, Trump will support state terror, divisionary sectarian politics as envisaged by the Saudis and will essentially approve of a lexicon that marks Iran as the next war zone.

Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has devastated Yemen in its bid to curtail an alleged Iranian influence on the country. Both the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition have committed heinous human rights violations, but it is the air bombardment inflicted by the US and UK supported coalition that has induced horrific levels of casualties.

The indiscriminate bombing of homes, hospitals has killed at least 8 000 people and injured more than 42 000 others.

Today, it is considered the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, notwithstanding horrific conditions in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Some 17 million people out of a population of 27 million are food insecure.

Overall 80% of the country is in need of humanitarian assistance.

Moreover, Iran would have gone to the polls to elect a new president.

Make no mistake; the decision to be in Riyadh while Iranians select their new leader is an emphatic endorsement.

Kiss climate change pact goodbye

The US is one of 192 nations to have signed the Paris climate accord in late 2015.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly threatened to cancel payments to UN climate change programmes and to withdraw from the accord.

In fact the first entry on The White House website in late January was “America’s First Energy Programs” that called for the purging of “burdensome regulations on our energy industry”, including the removal of “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”.

The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution “to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans”.

The administration’s emphasis on locally sourced energy, including “clean coal“ breathes new life into Opec countries, including Saudi Arabia, who have faced pressure over their reliance on fossil fuels.

Trump says he will decide on the climate agreement following his trip.

Given his insistence on upending tradition and pushing an unfettered, shameless personal agenda, for once a president’s visit is precisely as it appears: toxic and dangerous.

* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.