President Trump gave a long-awaited speech on Islam and terrorism and US relations with the Muslim world today at the King Abdulaziz International Conference Center in Riyadh. You can find the full transcript here.
Radical Islamic extremism.
The battles over “radical Islamic extremism” being used to describe Islamic terrorism is over. The phrase does not appear in the speech and the formulation of “combating radicalization” is used. Politico and some other outlets are framing this as a cage match between H. R. McMaster, on the one hand, and Steven Miller and Steven Bannon on the other, and proclaiming the former the victor. I simply don’t have the contacts in the White House to have an opinion on this. Just a couple of weeks ago we were regaled with stories about how McMaster was on the way out and how Trump hated him. If that is the case, then why the administration went with McMaster’s more traditional formulation is truly bizarre. The more logical answer is that the interagency process triumphed, as it should. And this:
Saudi Arabia is home to the holiest sites in one of the world’s great faiths.
I’m sure this is just rampant hypocrisy, much like the Melania-headscarf kerfuffle but I’m going out on a limb here and say that I think Trump is learning this foreign policy stuff is complicated, he’s learning to trust McMaster and Mattis and Tillerson, and he’s actually able to take good advice on occasion. For instance, he did not deviate from the advance text of this speech at all. Not a single ad-lib. That’s a huge step forward.
I think this statement is one of the better attacks on terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, particularly against other Muslims.
Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.
Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death.
If we do not act against this organized terror, then we know what will happen. Terrorism’s devastation of life will continue to spread. Peaceful societies will become engulfed by violence. And the futures of many generations will be sadly squandered.
If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing—then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God.
This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations.
This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.
This is a battle between Good and Evil.
This is a major departure from both Bush and Obama who tried to lecture the Islamic world on what was and was not Islamic behavior. This is a much more simple formulation that doesn’t single Islam out but focuses on a particular behavior.
Muslim nations are responsible for fighting terrorism
Trump places the responsibility for ending this squarely on the shoulders of the Islamic world:
America is prepared to stand with you—in pursuit of shared interests and common security.
But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.
It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.
A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.
DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.
DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.
DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and
DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.
Pragmatism over human right crusading
To me, this is the most sensible thing that has happened to our Middle East policy since the Carter administration and it is definitely a break from the Obama-era nonsense. The closest relation to this is George Bush of 2001 who said, “if you are not with us you are against us.”
America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.
Here at this summit we will discuss many interests we share together. But above all we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test—to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.
For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.
Our friends will never question our support, and our enemies will never doubt our determination. Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption. We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes – not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms – not sudden intervention.
We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals.
Even the best regimes in the Islamic world are repressive and tend towards brutal by Western standards. If we devote our energies to meddling in their internal policies we not only lose allies in the war against Islamic terrorism, we potentially destabilize the very governments whose support we need.
Iran is the problem
This is huge. Obama had been wooing Iran because he was under the illusion that Iranian aggression could be contained and managed if only we gave them what they wanted. He seemed to be trying to recreate a Nixon era foreign policy in which Iran was our bulwark in the region while ignoring the fact that it is a terrorist state. Trump calls out Iran for what it is and that, if nothing else, is a refreshing breath of realism.
But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.
From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.
It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.
Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.
The decisions we make will affect countless lives.
On the whole, I think it was a solid performance that shows the influence of very solid national security team that is focused on containing Iran and crushing ISIS.