In the complicated world of foreign relations, President Trump has had a unique, if often hypocritical, topsy-turvy relationship with Saudi Arabia.
During his campaign, he was a fierce critic of the conservative Muslim nation as a source of terrorism. He also seriously enjoyed criticizing Hillary Clinton for accepting money from a country that treats women so badly that it won’t even allow them to drive.
Yet, once he took office, that attitude changed dramatically.
Saudi Arabia was the first country he visited on his initial overseas trip as Commander-in-Chief. Suddenly, Saudi Arabia wasn’t just the homeland of the 9/11 attackers and Osama Bin Laden. The Saudi role in the brutal civil war in Yemen? Who cares? Standing beside a glowing orb with members of the Saudi royal family, Trump must have looked around and said “I can get into this!”
Perhaps it was the novelty of the pomp and circumstance that attends an official presidential visit. With an ego like Trump’s, it’s easy to simply bask in the attention, the military parades, the regal trappings and have your already inflated sense of self-worth grow like the mold in a flooded Houston home in semi-tropical heat.
But it wouldn’t be surprising if the final deciding factor in changing the president’s opinion of the Saudis was the gifts, the voluminous number of lavish and gilded gifts.
The Daily Beast filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department to get a list of the dozens of gifts that the President accepted from the Wahhabist Sunni Muslim kingdom, and its contents present a revealing peek at how this strict monarchy tries to ingratiate itself with the new ruler of an important ally and source of military might.
Among the total of 83 separate items are traditional Saudi garb like:
- robes lined with the fur of cheetahs and white tigers,
- a black and orange cotton shirt with leather ammo belt and holster (presumably suitable for Halloween parties in open carry states),
- traditional headgear,
- shirts and jackets with gold and silver embroidery,
- no fewer than nine pairs of leather sandals in various colors,
- and for the White House casual Fridays, two tee-shirts, one hooded sweatshirt, one baseball hat (no word on whether the hat said “Make Saudi Arabia Great Again”)
Also included on the list were perfumes, a desk clock, four boxes of gold-plated coins, a gold honor medal (with certificate), a silver oil well sculpture, and artwork, some depicting Saudi Women, but one featuring a picture of the President’s favorite subject, himself.
Then there are the more military-oriented items: a dagger made of pure silver with mother of pearl sheath and various designs, a large sword, a dagger, a leather ammo holder and holster, a large box containing dagger, sword, ammo holder, and holster, and another sword.
While the abundance of gilded items on the list, one would think that the Saudis had surely researched the President’s tastes very well, but the inclusion of several books shows that perhaps it was simply a confluence of gaudy taste.
In all seriousness, Trump’s pivot from regarding the Middle Eastern kingdom less than favorably to being King Salman’s new best friend may have something to do with the massive $100 billion arms deal that he announced during his visit. That those arms will be used to further escalate the violence in neighboring Yemen seems to matter little to the businessman turned president. It’s all about the deal. And the gifts. Don’t forget the gifts.
Check out the full list on The Daily Beast site here.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.