Donald Trump's political career arguably began with the full-page advertisements he purchased in The Post and several other newspapers in September 1987 in order to denounce Saudi Arabia, along with Japan, for "taking advantage of the United States." Trump suggested, among other things, that the United States had no business defending the Persian Gulf, "an area of only marginal significance" for U.S. interests. He said the Saudis should "pay for the protection we extend as allies."
Through the following three decades, including his presidential campaign, Trump stuck to that message. Yet in his inaugural foreign excursion as president Trump will touch down first not in Ottawa or London, but Riyadh, where he will celebrate what is being described as a renaissance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Trump is expected to announce enhanced U.S. support for the kingdom and its Gulf allies, including help with the formation of a defense alliance that U.S. officials say could evolve into an "Arab NATO." The administration has also signed off on upward of $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, including guided munitions that were held up by the Obama administration.
This upgraded alliance might be described as a roundabout response to Trump's old critique. Administration officials say the massive Saudi purchases, though not a direct payment for U.S. defense, will create jobs in the United States and advance the day when the Persian Gulf states can defend themselves. Mostly, however, Trump's sudden embrace of a regime he once excoriated reflects the success of an assiduous Saudi lobbying campaign. The kingdom's seasoned diplomats set out to persuade the inexperienced Trump team that Saudi Arabia was an invaluable ally against the Islamic State as well as Iran and appear to have succeeded all too easily.