President Trump’s much-anticipated speech at the Islamic Summit in Riyadh didn’t begin auspiciously. Trump started with: “I want to thank King Salman for his extraordinary words” — yet among Salman’s “extraordinary words” were the risible claims that “Islam was and will always be the religion of mercy, tolerance, and coexistence,” and that “in its prosperous times, Islam provided the best examples of coexistence and harmony between countries and individuals.”
However, Trump’s speech did include some elements of a realistic approach to the jihad threat, ideas that have been glaringly lacking from U.S. foreign policy for nearly sixteen years now.
Trump sounded conciliatory notes, saying that he came to “deliver a message of friendship and hope,” and “that is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic Faith.” Accordingly, he reminded the assembled Muslim leaders of his inaugural address, in which he “promised that America will not seek to impose our way of life on others.”
Trump no doubt thought that Muslim leaders would welcome this promise in light of the ill-fated Bush/Obama attempts to establish Western-style republics in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disastrous effects of “regime change” in Libya and elsewhere. And that is doubtless true: a respite from Obama’s reckless and self-defeating interventionism is most welcome.
But it should also be remembered that America never tried in any serious way to impose its way of life upon Iraq or Afghanistan. In both countries, American forces oversaw the implementation of constitutions that enshrined Sharia as the highest law of the land.
America did not stand strongly for the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and equality of rights for women and non-Muslims — all of which Sharia denies. If America had offered refuge to those who wanted to live in freedom, who knows how many millions of Muslims would have chosen liberty over Sharia. But we will never know.
Trump also spoke proudly of “a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase,” which “will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.” The clear target here is Iran. But later in the speech, he included among the Iranian mullahs’ transgressions their “vowing the destruction of Israel” — and surely, many among his Sunni audience thought: “Well, that’s the one thing Shia Iran gets right.”
It is all too easy to imagine a scenario in which these Saudi arms are used against Israel.
President Trump also announced “a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology — located right here, in this central part of the Islamic World.” That its name is similar to Obama’s euphemistic “Countering Violent Extremism” program, so named to avoid any hint that Islam might have something to do with terrorism, was not a good sign.
Nor was Trump’s statement that “this groundbreaking new center represents a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization.” The world has been calling upon, and waiting for, Muslim-majority countries to take the lead in combatting radicalization since 9/11, and long before that.
So where is the global Muslim movement to reform Islam and counter the jihadists’ interpretation of its core texts? Egypt’s al-Sisi, who was present at Trump’s speech, several years ago called upon the Islamic scholars of al-Azhar, the most prestigious and influential institution in Sunni Islam, to work toward reforming Islam to curb its violent elements. Nothing has yet been done.
How long will we wait? How much longer will non-Muslim and reformist Muslim leaders issue these calls before realizing nothing is going to be done?
Trump did make several positive departures from the Obama legacy, however. He spoke of “defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it,” and later put teeth on his call for defeating the jihad ideology — in a way Barack Obama never did — by calling for “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”
An actual honest confrontation of the crisis of Islamist extremism would require an honest and thorough examination of the motivating ideology of jihad terrorists. President George W. Bush hamstrung this effort when he declared, shortly after 9/11, that Islam was a “religion of peace.” Barack Obama made it altogether impossible when he heeded the demands of Muslim, Leftist, and other allied groups in 2011 by ordering the removal of all mentions of Islam and jihad from counterterror training.
Trump, to his credit, assumed that the terrorists were Muslim, calling upon the Muslim leaders to “drive them out of your places of worship.”
This was a far cry from Hillary Clinton’s 2015 statement: “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” And this was worlds away from Obama’s claims: “For more than a thousand years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace,” and “Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion and mercy and justice and charity.”
Trump didn’t say anything about the nature of Islam. He didn’t affirm it was peaceful or note that it contains doctrines of violence. And that is as it should be: neither he nor any of his predecessors has the title of “theologian-in-chief.” Bush and Obama never had to say anything about Islam, and they caused considerable damage to counterterror efforts by doing so. Trump spoke of “Islamist extremism,” thereby recognizing the obvious: there is a problem within Islam. Rather than pretending that the terrorists were not Muslim, he noted correctly that they were frequenting mosques.
If he can follow through on these words with a realistic adjustment of our counterterror stance so as to meet the actual threat we face, Sunday’s speech could go down in history as a turning point in the free world’s struggle against jihad.
But if his enemies from the swamp succeed in preventing him from doing this, and if they reassert the failed policies of the last sixteen years, then the jihad will advance apace — bringing unimaginable chaos and bloodshed with it. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
One other thing Trump said: “This is a battle between Good and Evil.”