With a special counsel investigation into the Trump administration marring the president's still young tenure, it can be easy to look at his trip to the Middle East as some form of a distraction. But if Trump can exercise discipline and stick to the script, the trip could help prove that he and his team can execute a complicated and vital policy agenda.
And that's why it's starting in Saudi Arabia, where the stakes are highest. Under the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia was severely undermined in its longstanding conflict with its arch enemy Iran. Trump is going to try to reverse that.
It's not that Saudi Arabia wasn't due for a fall. Even in the years after 9/11, the Saudis remained either the world's top or second-biggest funding source for Islamic terrorism and jihadist propaganda. One of the fiercest critics in recent years was Donald Trump himself. Trump posted on Facebook last year that Saudi Arabia wants "women as slaves and to kill gays." And during one political debate with Hillary Clinton he said the Saudis were "people that push gays off buildings" and "kill women."
But here's the thing: Iran is worse. And by signing an agreement that gave Tehran a path to nuclear weapons and enriched the Ayatollahs to the tune of more than $100 billion, the Obama administration has made things worse in the strife-ridden region.
ISIS is also worse. And while some experts believe Saudi Arabia was at least unintentionally responsible for the rise of ISIS, the country has made very obvious efforts to fight the terrorist regime since 2014. Iran is fighting ISIS too, but the Trump administration obviously feels more comfortable working with the Saudis against that enemy.