Has Trump lost his focus on radical Islam?

The estimable Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks so. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, she reminds us:

Candidate Donald Trump vowed to take a fresh approach to Islamic extremism. He ditched the politically correct language of the Obama administration by declaring that we were mired in an ideological conflict with radical Islam, which he likened to the totalitarian ideologies America had defeated in the 20th century.

Mr. Trump also promised, as part of his immigration policy, to put in place an “extreme vetting” system that screens for Islamic radicalism. He vowed to work with genuine Muslim reformers and concluded with the promise that one of his first acts as president would be “to establish a commission on radical Islam.”

But President Trump hasn’t delivered:

Mr. Trump has had more than six months to make good on these pledges. He hasn’t gotten very far. The administration’s first move—a hastily drafted executive order limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries—backfired when it was repeatedly blocked in court.

Worse, subsequent moves have tended to run counter to Mr. Trump’s campaign pledges. Aside from a new questionnaire for visa applicants, there has been no clarity regarding the promised “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants and visitors. The promise to work with and empower authentic Muslim reformers has gone nowhere. The status of the promised commission on radical Islam remains unclear.

Perhaps most discouragingly, the administration’s Middle Eastern strategy seems to involve cozying up to Saudi Arabia—for decades the principal source of funding for Islamic extremism around the world.

As to the last point, I think we should remember that the “cozying up to Saudi Arabia” is probably motivated by the need to form an alliance to counter Iran. Overall, however, I think Ayaan’s criticism of the president stands.

How to explain Trump’s failure to deliver? Some blame his advisers, such as H.R. McMaster, and not without justification, I believe.

However, in my opinion Ayaan is right to place the primary blame on Trump. As she puts it, “he simply seems to have lost interest.”

The same statement probably explains a lot about this presidency. To be fair to Trump, though, the fact that his opponents have formed a “resistance” and placed him under siege for no very good reason makes it difficult for him — as it would for even a less narcissistic president — to remain focused on things like “Islamic extremism.” It’s understandable that when he’s not worrying about Robert Mueller and his dream team of partisan Democrats, his focus is on matters like North Korean and Iranian nukes.

There’s also the perceived need to “put wins on the board.” Defeating ISIS in its strongholds is a win, even though the process of driving it out of Mosul and Raqqa was well underway before Trump took office. “Working with genuine Muslim reformers” and establishing “a commission on radical Islam” won’t register as a win on the public scorecard.

Realizing that Trump is unlikely to follow through on these promises, Ayaan urges Congress to act. She proposes that Congress convene hearings on the ideological threat of radical Islam (and suggests, naively I think, that this can be an area of bipartisan agreement). “If the executive branch isn’t willing — if the president has forgotten his campaign commitments — lawmakers can and should step up to the plate,” she concludes.


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