US President Donald Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia “is being viewed as an effort to reset relations between the US and the Muslim world.” However, Trump’s policy for Muslims is same as Obama
Key notes of Trump’s Speech
- This speech is closely watched in the region, especially in light of Trump’s attempt earlier this year to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
- It appeared to be a sharp pivot from a president who declared “I think Islam hates us” while on the campaign trail.
EVENTUALLY, TRUMP TURNS POLITICALLY CORRECT IN HIS VISIT TO KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
- Trump addressed the “common values and shared interests” that the United States shares with its Saudi allies.
- Trump underscored that the US representatives “are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all”.
- The US president also offered some strong words on the fight against terrorism.“But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” he said. “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.”
- The fight against terrorism is a “battle between good and evil,” not a fight between “different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,”
- Trump delivered the address to leaders of dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority nations.
- Trump told the leaders that the U.S. is prepared to “stand by you,” but “the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.”
“Drive them out,” he told them. “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 said that his administration is adopting a policy of “principled realism.” Here’s more:
“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.”
No one was quite sure which Trump would arrive in Riyadh
What is there to be said about President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia that has not already been said? That the irony of a president who campaigned in large part on suspicion of Muslims would go to Saudi Arabia was astonishing? That the president shamelessly hawked “beautiful American weapons” to a country already awash in sophisticated arms that have been used to pulverize Yemen, the poorest country in the region, in a war that has become a major human rights disaster? That Trump’s call to arms to fight extremism and terrorism was made in the nation that produced 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, with nary a word about how Saudis have contributed to this phenomenon?
The oddity of Trump’s visit to Riyadh provided a seemingly endless stream of social media snark, along with more serious criticism of the White House’s approach to the Middle East, which seems based on, well, giving a speech. In fairness, there were hints of strategy to be found in Trump’s address, but instead of the dramatic break from the past that the administration had promised, the White House strategy seems awfully familiar.
Saudi Arabia was already Sync with Trump
As much as the Trump administration and the Saudis want to get past the Barack Obama years, the former president hovered like a ghost throughout Trump’s two-day visit. The lavish arrival ceremony and welcome that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud afforded the new American president was a studied contrast to the low-level reception Obama received on his last state visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2016.
It was almost as if the Saudi leadership, in their anger at Obama’s Iran policy and dismay that he would publicly suggest that the Saudis have domestic problems in need of attention, trolled him by rolling out an immense red carpet for his successor and escorting his limousine with Arabian stallions.
The anti-Iran public speech is welcome to the Saudi royalty. Saudi Arabia is largely Sunni Muslim, and is a strong rival of Iran, the region’s Shia Muslim power. The Saudis were hotly opposed to President Obama’s communications with Iran and his backing of the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw many sanctions lifted against the country.
It is also because the leadership of Saudi Arabia was already more in sync with Trump than they were with President Obama — on everything from his management style to his vision of the Middle East. For one, the Saudis were never pleased with Obama’s overtures to Iran. Trump has been vocal since the campaign that he disagreed with Obama’s Iran deal.
“They relate to Trump more because Trump has an authoritarian personality and these are authoritarian leaders,” says Shadi Hamid.
Obama had a penchant for lecturing the Saudis on human rights — even going so far as to delay an $110 billion arms sale that went through yesterday, out of concern for how those weapons might be used. Regional watchers said that Trump was not expected to lecture the Saudis on human rights.
“The good news for the Trump people is the Saudis want this to be a success,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Intelligence Project on an advance call with journalists last week.
“They don’t want any more talk about human rights, democracy, political reform, or gender equality. They had enough of that from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They’re pretty confident they’re not going to hear it from Donald Trump, and I think they’re pretty right about that.”
In short, Trump refrained from criticizing human rights in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, long a source of international concern. “We are not here to lecture,” he said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” but “a battle between good and evil”, he said as he urged Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship”.
So, Trump played his part in this drama to perfection, telling the Saudis everything they wanted to hear.
Trump Administration Merely Picking Up where Obama left off.
Try as Americans and Saudis might to draw as sharp a contrast between U.S.-Saudi relations during the Obama years and what they will look like under Trump, they could not quite manage much more than a change in tone. On policy, it was a lot more of the same. The new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology seems to be the logical extension of Obama’s efforts in the same area. In February 2015, the United States hosted a summit on combating violent extremism, which produced follow-up regional meetings to tackle various aspects of this phenomenon. It may have amounted to little more than extended speechifying, but it is hard to overlook the fact that Trump is merely picking up where Obama left off.
The same goes with Trump’s plan to fight terrorism financing through something called the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center. It is hard not to notice a reinventing-the-wheel quality to this initiative, given that the Obama team pursued terrorist financing with vigor, though the policy’s origins lie in President George W. Bush’s administration and the fraught weeks and months after the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. And that arms package worth $110 billion of beautiful weapons? Part of that deal was done under Obama, though Trump added munitions that the previous administration did not want to sell to the Saudis over concern about how they might be used in Yemen. Even on Iran, which Trump identified as the source of extremism and instability in the Middle East, the White House issued waivers on May 17 regarding Iranian sanctions, in keeping with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (know more commonly as the Iran nuclear deal).
The speechwriter was the author of the Muslim ban
McMaster’s goals were lofty, but expectations for the speech were relatively low. That’s partly because Stephen Miller, Trump’s wordsmith on this trip, was the same staffer who penned the Muslim ban.
Miller is well known to Islamophobia watchers. Even as an undergrad at Duke in the middle of the last decade, he espoused some of the thinking that would eventually make its way into the Trump speeches. Take one column he wrote back in 2006:
“Islamic terrorists have declared holy war on the United States,” he wrote in a piece titled “Unpatriotic Dissent.” “They have declared a death sentence on every man, woman and child living in this country. They are actively seeking, with the assistance of radical Muslim despots, weapons that would permit them to execute hundreds of thousands of Americans in a single attack.”
Trump’s Visit to Riyadh shows Consistency in American Foreign Policy
For all of the downright weirdness of Trump’s visit to Riyadh — the glowing orb, the president’s apparent fondness for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s shoes — it also demonstrated a remarkable consistency in American foreign policy. Obama administration veterans were all over the Trump speech on social media and in various venues with hot takes, but that may be just because it was Trump. Trump’s words were more a vindication of some of Obama’s major policies rather than a break from them. And Trump’s clarion call to work with the Middle East’s dictators? That too falls well within a long Washington tradition of crafting a foreign policy to deal with the way the world is rather than the way Americans would like it to be.
It’s worth noting one group that was not mentioned in the speech — American Muslims. As Adnan Zulfiqar, a Truman National Security project fellow, told BuzzFeed:
“He easily engages with Islam as a foreign ‘other,’ as opposed to Islam and Muslims as part of the American fabric.”
Despite of everything, the Saudis appear thrilled that Trump was so conciliatory on his visit. They should enjoy themselves while they can. However, Americans have learned this about Trump: What he says to your face often bears no relationship to what he says behind your back.
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