The Middle East is caught in a seemingly endless spiral of instability. The possibility of military intervention in Syria, together with the deteriorating situation in Egypt since the army’s coup, has placed the region on a razor’s edge. Moreover, despite the changes in Iran since its presidential election in June, international negotiations over its nuclear ambitions remain a dead letter.
Paradoxes abound, as the United States’s traditional Middle East allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and the Gulf states) have taken opposing – and sometimes seemingly contradictory – positions on the region’s key conflicts. And, in all of today’s hotspots, the assertion of interests by neighboring or nearby countries has complicated matters further.
Saudi Arabia, fearing severe domestic consequences from the Muslim Brotherhood’s empowerment in Egypt, does not want to see an Islamist movement legitimized democratically. So it has taken a consistently harsh position against the Brotherhood, despite the latter being more moderate than the Saudis’ own brand of Islam.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.