When Fox's Chris Wallace commented yesterday on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's apparent ease dancing the ardah with Saudi hosts, the bemused secretary admitted that it was not his first "sword dance."
It was a reminder of how deeply knowledgeable Tillerson is about the region, including knowing many of the key players. He came across as an adult and not the sort of guy to be hoodwinked by Iranian mullahs. So, for a change, did President Trump.
Of course, the Saudis were clearly delighted to host the American president. Some of this enthusiasm undoubtedly is the result of the $110 billion arms sale signed during Trump's visit.
Some of the enthusiasm, however, was simply that Donald Trump is not Barack Obama, whose administration enriched and empowered the Iranian mullahs.
In contrast to President Obama's first outing in the Middle East, his misguided Cairo speech that presented an unrealistically rosy picture of Islam and apologized for the U.S., Trump delivered a sober call to the Muslim world to confront terrorism. As Hot Air noted, it was "prettygood":
That 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. Many nations here today have taken important steps to raise up that message. Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development.
Trump could have said more about the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, but all in all it was a speech of which Americans can be proud. Elliott Abrams writes:
The president’s speech, replete with respect for Islam, added to the sense that far from being a hater of Islam, he was a Westerner approaching it with dignity and common sense. One possible effect: How might federal judges henceforth hold that his executive orders limiting access to the United States for certain Muslims are motivated by nothing more than pure hatred? They have relied on campaign rhetoric, but this speech showed (as have so many other Trump actions) that campaign rhetoric is no guide to his positions and motivations as president.
Trump was tough as nails on Iran, which will gratify his Saudi hosts and the many Americans who found the Obama approach unconscionable. Obama saw Iran as a potential partner in the Middle East and subordinated every American interest to getting his nuclear deal done. Trump made it clear that he has entirely jettisoned this approach. Trump’s analysis of the terrorists was also powerful: They are nihilists, he suggested, not Muslims. Thus, he said: “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.”
As noted, the president soft pedaled some important concerns:
The Sunni royal family’s oppression of the country’s Shia majority is in fact creating a breeding ground for radicalism and opening a door for Iranian subversion. Trump also, though with better reason, stayed completely away from the embarrassing fact that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam is at least a gateway drug for extremism.
All around the world, Saudi money is being used to suppress indigenous forms of Islam. Saudi preachers, mosques, and schools teach that local and moderate versions of Islam are impure and must be replaced by the only true version: the Saudi Wahhabi version. But that version of Islam treats unbelievers with contempt and often hatred, oppresses women, and opposes democracy.
It would have been impolite and in fact nasty for Trump to say this in public as a guest in Saudi Arabia, but one wonders what he said privately. Trump announced the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, to be located in Saudi Arabia and presumably funded by them. But combating extremist ideology must start at home for the Saudis, and it is to be hoped that Trump told them so in his private sessions.
Daniel Pipes gagged at many assertions in the speech (heaping praise on King Salman, implicated in promoting jihad in Bosnia and Pakistan, and the president's referring to Saudia Arabia as "sacred land"), but gave it good marks for signaling the beginning of better U. S. policy in the Middle East:
It was unprecedented and noteworthy for an American leader to declare this in a city that is not only the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but also the host of the Saudi-conjured Arab Islamic American Summit, attended by leaders from some 50 Muslim-majority countries. “I have your number,” Trump effectively announced. “So don’t play games with me.”
He confirmed this point several times in the speech: “Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization”; “Muslim nations must be willing to take on the burden, if we are going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion”; a mention of the human toll of “ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others”; and his call to stand together “against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.” No fuzziness here about the nature of the problem.
The Riyadh speech was the bookend of Barack Obama's fatuous Cairo speech.
For a first sword dance, it was pretty good.