Here is the text of President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia to heads of dozens of Muslim-majority states. The speech is excellent.
Trump’s approach to the Muslim world in this speech aligns, in general terms, with his approach to other less than friendly world actors. As with China, to name one, Trump eschews past hostile rhetoric and assumes (or pretends to) the best in the hope of securing assistance in meeting U.S. objectives. If he doesn’t secure it, all bets are off.
Frankly, the Muslim leaders Trump addressed in Saudi Arabia are probably a decent bet — better than China and certainly better than the Russia and the Palestinian leaders. Many of the Muslims nations in question are under serious duress and have a stake in cooperating with the U.S.
Trump began the substantive portion of his speech by emphasizing that stake. He noted that “the innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations. . .have borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in [the] wave of fanatical violence” inflicted by “Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.” He added that the vast, untapped potential of the Middle East “is held at bay by bloodshed and terror” inflicted by such extremism and terrorism.
These propositions are difficult to deny.
Trump then stated:
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.
Portions of this excerpt are controversial. Like his two recent predecessors, Trump is giving Islam a pass for the fanaticism and violence perpetrated, with plausibility, in its name. In Trump’s case, as I noted above, doing so is consistent with his general approach to less than friendly powers with whom he wants to deal.
Trump also gave the Muslim world, including his Saudi hosts, a pass on reprehensible human rights practices. He stated:
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.
Finally, to make it a trifecta of passes, Trump acted as if the Saudis and others have not at times supported and funded the ideology of jihad. Instead, he praised the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia and the establishment of a Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, to be co-chaired by the U.S. and the Saudis.
It was appropriate, for the purposes of his diplomacy, for Trump to have handed out these passes. Presumably, Trump understands that he was indulging, to some extent, in fiction. Given all of the recent leaking, we may find out whether he does or does not.
Having laid his foundation, Trump then delivered a forceful call for action:
We can only overcome this evil [of terrorism] if the forces of good are united and strong—and if everyone in this room does their fair share and fulfills their part of the burden.
Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land.
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.
Trump explained that this means “every country in the region has an absolute duty to ensure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.” It also means “cut[ing] off the financial channels that let ISIS sell oil, let extremists pay their fighters, and help terrorists smuggle their reinforcements.”
And that’s not all. There is a crucial ideological component:
[It] means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.
Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED.
And political leaders must speak out to affirm the same idea: heroes don’t kill innocents; they save them. . . .
[It] means promoting the aspirations and dreams of all citizens who seek a better life—including women, children, and followers of all faiths. Numerous Arab and Islamic scholars have eloquently argued that protecting equality strengthens Arab and Muslim communities.
The final paragraph violated in a small way Trump’s promise not to “lecture” Muslim nations on “how to live.” It was a violation well worth committing.
Late in the speech, Trump turned to the subject of Iran:
[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.
I wonder how the assembled heads of state assess the efficacy of these measures. Perhaps Trump fleshed out the first two during private talks.
Even if he did not, the assembled leaders were surely relieved, after eight harrowing years, to hear a U.S. president who is prepared to denounce the Iranian regime and seek their partnership in opposing it.
This was a good day for President Trump and a good day for the United States.