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.”
This piece was originally published at Vanity Fair's The Hive.