Trump surprises with Davos decision

Image source, Getty Images

Donald Trump plans to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos - the first sitting US president to attend the annual gathering in almost two decades.

The Swiss mountain village conference attracts some of the richest and most powerful people in the world and has become a byword for the global business interests Mr Trump often attacks.

This year's theme: creating a shared future in a fractured world, appears to clash with Trump's populist rhetoric.

Davos takes place in late January.

More than 2,500 people are expected at this year's conference, including UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mrs May were among the biggest names that attended last year.

It is unusual for a US president to attend the Swiss retreat. While Ronald Reagan joined the Davos crowd several times, it was only via video link.

The first sitting US president to appear in Davos was Bill Clinton in 2000, at the forum's 30th anniversary session. He has been a regular attendee in most years since.

President George Bush - father and son - never came to the village in the Swiss mountains, and President Barack Obama also never appeared at the conference.

Image source, Reuters

A poke in the eye to globalists

Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor

Davos? Davos! It is the ultimate schmoozefest of the elite; shameless speed dating for the ruling class. It is where central bankers and global CEOs rub shoulders with presidents, prime-ministers and royalty.

Oh, and there's normally a smattering of Hollywood A-listers pushing this or that concern. In my times there I've seen Bono, Claudia Schiffer, Matt Damon etc, etc.

To put it another way, it's about as un-Donald Trump as you can get, and about as far away from his base as you can imagine. Last year it was dismissed out of hand that he would go for precisely those reasons. So why the change of mind?

Well one year in, the president has a story of economic success to tell, as the US continues to grow, tax cuts are in place and the stock market is soaring.

It also comes a year after President Xi won rave reviews for his appearance at The World Economic Forum, to give it its proper name.

Maybe in the great tussle with China over trade, Mr Trump wants to win back some of that lustre for the US. And maybe he will enjoy giving a poke in the eye to all those globalists as he sets out the case for America First.

One of my colleagues suggested the rather American metaphor "as welcome as a skunk at a garden party".

I have no idea what she means. As ever though, it will be quite something to behold.

Turning up at Davos is perhaps especially surprising for President Trump, who has made go-it-alone policies a hallmark of his administration.

His spokeswoman said he would promote policies to strengthen "American businesses, American industries, and American workers".

Analysts said attending Davos may be a way for President Trump to respond to criticism that he is ceding America's position as a world power, even as China seeks to take the stage.

"I see this as consistent with the adults in the administration saying, here is a way to help you stand up against Xi and... assert some kind of American engagement with the rest of the world," said Professor Charles Stevenson, who teaches American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

"I see it as a positive but surprising step that gives him an opportunity if he does it right."

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
The World Economic Forum at Davos attracted 3,000 people in 2017

Founded in 1971, the World Economic Forum promotes international trade, among other initiatives.

In contrast, Mr Trump has deployed anti-immigrant rhetoric, opposed multi-lateral free trade agreements, criticised institutions such as the United Nations and backed out of global treaties such as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

President Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon has often derided the "party of Davos" - a term he uses to describe a global moneyed class that does not support national or working class interests.

President Trump recently broke with Mr Bannon, who was quoted in a new book describing a meeting between the president's son and a group of Russians as "treasonous".

"If Steve Bannon were still there and had influence, this would not happen, but Trump's not ideological," said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm.

Mr Bremmer said the trip will satisfy the president's craving for headlines and is unlikely to draw the attention of his base.

But he added that participating carries risks, since the president is unlikely to mix well with the posh crowd, and risks an embarrassment if he goes off-script.

"In terms of what Trump can actually accomplish, he's not going to change any minds by going to Davos," Mr Bremmer said. "Even if it went perfectly, there's not much upside."