Foreign trips for any president are an ego boost of the highest magnitude: red carpet arrival with bands playing music, troop reviews, and official dinners in your honor hosted in some of the most opulent palaces in the world. For President Trump, the stakes are high. With poll numbers at historic lows and controversies surrounding his presidency, Trump desperately needs to change the news narrative, at least for a few days. And what better way to do that than to embark on your first foreign trip as president.
The president can't get out of town fast enough. When Air Force One went wheels up from Joint Base Andrews on Friday, one can imagine the president felt a sense of relief as Washington quickly disappeared beneath him. Air Force One, at least for now, will be his safe zone.
When I recently asked a friend how he could log so many hours on Air Force One during the Clinton administration, he had an easy answer: the Lewinsky scandal! At a time when Clinton faced troubles at home, the best way to temporarily escape his troubles was to board the presidential aircraft and fly abroad.
But more than the comforts of Air Force One and the emotional shelter it provides to a president in turmoil, Trump will need to not only dominate the headlines over the next several days, he'll need to own them. And he can do that by making an unscheduled visit to Iraq.
From Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, it's a short flight. I know this because from 2008-2010, I traveled to Iraq 14 times as a civilian member of a special Department of Defense task force in charge of economic development and rebuilding as part of General David Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy.
Foreign trips are always full of surprises, and this would certainly be one of them. Just last month, Trump sent his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner to Iraq to meet with United States military officials and to receive an on-the-ground update on counter-Islamic State operations.
Middle East peace is one of Trump's loftier goals and an unscheduled visit to Iraq would benefit him greatly. Nothing speaks louder than a presidential visit to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the government of Iraq as well as the U.S. forces stationed there.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And nothing illustrates that better than Air Force One on the tarmac at Baghdad International Airport.
At a time when the president needs to change breaking news headlines, a visit to Iraq would do just that.
Mark Vargas (@MarkAVargas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is co-founder and president of tech startup Licentiam. From 2007-2010, he served as a civilian within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. From 2008-2010 he traveled to Iraq 14 times.
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