U.S. President Donald Trump laid out his vision for combating extremism in a much-awaited speech to the assembled leaders of over 50 Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia today. He reached out the Muslim world, saying he was looking for a partner in combating what he alternatively called extremism, fanaticism and finally naming the culprit: “Islamic extremism, Islamists and Islamic terror.”
Trump called on Muslim nations to do their “fair share” in conquering extremism, saying “drive them out of your holy lands and drive them out of this earth.”
He repeatedly called on the Muslim world to fight the battle themselves against against this scourge, saying America was prepared to “stand to with you” but not to do the job for you.
“The nations of the Middle East have to decide what kind of future they want,” Trump said, adding, it is “a choice America cannot make for you.”
“If you choose the path of terror your life will be brief and your soul will be condemned,” he said.
He peppered this message, which he reiterated many times, with warm words of praise for the accomplishments and potential of the nations of the Middle East, and repeatedly assured the assembled leaders of the Muslim world that America was not seeking to impose its way of life on the Muslim world. “We are not here to lecture, to tell other people how to be, how to live, how to pray,” he said.
He called his approach “principled realism,” which he said would support the Muslim world in driving out extremism but be guided by looking at the successes and failures of past experience. The approach will entail a push for “gradual reform” and not be based on “rigid ideology,” most likely referring to former President George W. Bush’s failed principle of pushing democracy as a way to solve the region’s problems.
Trump also announced the signing of $400 billion in agreements with Saudi Arabia as well as the formation of two new institutions: the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which will be based in Riyadh to tackle the ideology driving terrorism, and a Terrorism Financing Targeting Center, which would prosecute terrorism financiers across the region.
Saudi Arabia and the remaining five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council will participate in the effort.
Trump praised recent actions of Muslim countries in fighting terrorism and extremism. In particular, he lauded the Saudis for designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization and placing sanctions on one of its senior leaders.
He lauded Lebanon and Turkey for taking in refugees from Syria.
He called on the assembled Muslim leaders to protect equality for minorities. He also hinted at a possible American-led peace effort between Israelis and Palestinians.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia spoke first, dubbing Islam a religion of peace and tolerance and slamming the Iranian regime as the “spearhead” of global extremism. Trump’s speech ended with a focus on Iran, which he labelled as behind much of the terrorism in the world. Both Salman and Trump took pains to differentiate the actions of the Iranian regime from the people of Iran, with whom the leaders said they have no quarrel.
Trump praised the potential of the region, it’s rich history and culture and youthful population and said the region never had more potential than it does today, if they can only deal with the terrorism problem.
With a typically-Trumpian rhetorical flourish, the president billed his speech and the agreements signed as perhaps “the beginning of peace in the Middle East and maybe even all over the world.”