Trump in Saudi Arabia: politely speaking the truth about Islamic extremism

Saudi Arabia respects Donald Trump because he promises to partner with it against Islamic extremism, without trying to change the Sunni Arab nations.

From the first moment Trump’s plane landed in Saudi Arabia, things were different:

Trump greeted with respect in Saudi Arabia no bows

Ignore those who try to say that, once off the tarmac, Trump finally did bow to the King of Saudi Arabia, just as Obama did. What the footage actually shows is that the tall Trump stooped to receive an honor from the shorter Saudi king (who was seated next to an unveiled Melania). Trump’s was no act of obeisance:

There was also the fact that King Salman, the aged ruler of Saudi Arabia, shook hands with Melania, an unveiled woman:

Melania greeted with handshake in Saudi Arabia

Perhaps even more amazing was that the leadership in Saudi Arabia sat with and spoke to an unveiled Jewish woman:

Ivanka in Saudi Arabia -- Jewish and unveiled

So what’s going on? It was Obama who had the love affair with Islam but in Saudi Arabia, it’s Trump and his family who are being feted with tremendous respect. Here’s what I think is happening:

Fracking. The Saudis and other Sunni oil-producing nations are no longer in the catbird seat calling the shots. America is now a top oil-producing nation and these other nations have realized that they have to fall in line and compete in the open market.

Iran. Obama tried to realign the Middle East by helping Iran achieve nuclear status. Perhaps he imagined some sort of “mutually assured destruction” status that would see all of these nations observing a fraught truce for fear of a nuclear war.

What Obama didn’t want to believe, but the Sunni states and Israel fully understand, is that Iran is under the leadership of men who practice an apocalyptic Shia faith. Unlike American fundamentalists, however, who merely prepare for the End of Days, the Shia eschatology in which the Iranian Mullah’s believe allows them — nay, requires them — to take a pro-active role in starting the apocalypse. You really don’t want a nation subservient to that belief system to have nuclear weapons.

It’s that fear of a nuclear Iran — a fear that the United States, Israel, and the Sunni nations share — that is behind the enormous weapons deal that Trump announced:

My meetings with King Salman, the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince, have been filled with great warmth, good will, and tremendous cooperation. Yesterday, we signed historic agreements with the kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many hundreds of thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia

This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase. And we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies, the greatest anywhere in the world. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a far greater role in security and operations having to do with security.

The strong horse theory. Despite the beating Trump is taking from the American media, the Saudis have sized up the situation and come to their own conclusion: Trump will not be impeached because, despite all the false reports and innuendo, nothing he has done rises to the level of an impeachable offense.

The leaders assembled in Saudi Arabia have seen what Trump did in Syria and in Afghanistan, and they’re witnessing the naval build-up offshore of North Korea. This is not a man who will sit passively by when America is threatened (and make no mistake about the threat to America from Syria’s free use of chemical weapons or North Korea’s ostentatious effort to make it’s nuclear weapons deliverable over long distances). Trump is a strong horse and that’s the kind the Muslim world respects.

Islamic terrorism. The Saudis funded the rise of Wahhabi Islam, creating a monster they fear they can no longer control. They have to strike a balance that sees them continuing to support the core religious fundamentalism while destroying the terrorism. Trump’s masterful speech threaded that needle:

America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY)

Here at this summit, we will discuss (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY). But above all, we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test, to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces terrorism brings with it every single time. Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred.


But this future can only be achieved through defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it. Few nations have been spared the violent reach of terrorism. America has suffered repeated barbaric attacks from the atrocities of September 11 to the devastation of the Boston bombings to the horrible killings in San Bernardino and Orlando. The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So too have the nations of Africa and South America. India, Russia, China, and Australia have all been victims

But in sheer numbers, the deadliest toll has been exacted on the innocent people of Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern nations. They have borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of destruction in this wave of fanatical violence. Some estimates hold that more than 95 percent of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim. We now face a humanitarian and security disaster in this region that is spreading across the planet

In other words, don’t worry that we’ll try “national building” at your expense. However, we do expect you to join us in taking a strong stand against the active terrorism your faith is breeding. After all, you’re the ones doing most of the dying.

It’s a great speech, tackling Islamic extremism head on. It’s also not an insulting speech. Trump is careful to praise Islam’s accomplishments and envision a Muslim world that, while remaining Muslim, once again achieves its former heights. After all, as Trump says, the land that is now Iraq was the “cradle of civilization” (more than 5,000 years ago, but still).

The speech praises, but it also demands:

We in this room are the leaders of our peoples. They look to us for answers and for action. And when we look back at their faces, behind every pair of eyes is a soul that yearns for justice and yearns for peace

Today, billions of faces are now looking at us, waiting for us to act on the great question of our time. Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth? If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring — more suffering, more death, and more despair. But if we act, if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens the world, then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have.

The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance. Just imagine what tomorrow could bring, glorious wonders of science, art, medicine, and commerce to inspire mankind. Great cities built on the ruins of shattered towns. New jobs and industries that will lift up millions and millions of people. Parents who no longer worry for their children, their families, and who no longer mourn for their loved ones. And the faithful who finally worship without fear.

There’s no obeisance here; no craven dismissal of Trump’s own culture; and no pretense that Islam doesn’t have a major problem. It was a statesmanlike speech from a leader whom the Sunni Arab world has decided deserves respect.

The Middle East is always going to be messy. In many ways, the best thing that Trump could do is to push for Daniel Greenfield’s urge to return the Middle East to it’s pre-WWI tribal borders:

All of these problems [across the Arab and Muslim world] have a single cause. That cause is the failure of the Arab Muslim nation state.

This century exposed how fragile and artificial most of the countries whose existence we take for granted, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Libya, really are. A little instability and they collapse into quarreling tribes. These tribal conflicts have the same root cause as the “Palestinian” problem.

The Palestinian problem can’t be solved without resolving the problem of the Arab Muslim nation state.

The civil wars in Syria and Iraq, the flow of migrants into Europe and the latest itineration of the failed Palestinian peace process all stem from the conflict between the natural tribe and the artificial nation state. The Arab Muslim nation state is incapable of resolving these tribal conflicts.

That is the source of the tyranny, instability and violence in the Middle East.

No amount of concessions or negotiations by Israel will do anything except create more instability. Decades of Israeli concessions have only led to terrorism, violence, death and misery. If Israel ceased to exist tomorrow, the place where it was would be as much of a disaster area as Yemen or Syria.

It’s often pointed out that the Palestinians are a fictional national identity. But the Iraqis, Syrians and many others are equally artificial; historical names attached to fake countries. We weren’t the first Westerners to think that we could fix the Middle East by making them just like us. Before we tried exporting democracy, the British and the French exported nationhood with all the trimmings of flags, constitutions and anthems. Just like Arab Muslim democracy, the Arab Muslim nation state is a farce that spreads misery, instability and violence.

We can best fix the Middle East by ending all the failed efforts to turn it into Europe and America. And reversing them. Stop recognizing Arab Muslim countries that have incompatible populations. They’re dictatorships on the verge of a civil war. And that civil war will eventually drag us in as Iraq and Syria did.

Greenfield’s beautiful (and correct) theory, though, is a pipe dream. Those in power in these artificially created states are not going to give up that power without bloodshed.

Trump has to live in the real world. In that world, his demand that Arab and Muslim countries play nice with the rest of the world is something that someone has needed to say for the past 16 years. And Donald Trump, statesman, finally said it.