It’s not public yet, but the Pentagon has just delivered to the President and his national security team the beginnings of a comprehensive new strategy to defeat the Islamic State and other Mideast terrorist organizations.
The president requested the first draft of such a plan within 30 days of his inauguration.
While most of the plan will remain classified, I’m eager to learn as much as possible about how Mattis and his generals plan to press the offensive.
Will the President gives us a sneak peak of his ISIS war strategy in his address to a Joint Session of Congress tonight?
However, what’s critical is not just the Pentagon’s kinetic war plan. What we also need is a new plan from the State Department and National Security Council on how to conduct far more effective strategic communications in this war.
What’s the best way for Washington to define our enemy?
Is “Radical Islam” an effective or offensive short-hand descriptor?
Is “Radical Islamism” a somewhat more precise and thus better term?
Why is using the term “countering violent extremism” a flawed phrase?
How can the new administration do a better job than the previous administration in educating the American people as to the important nuances of this fight?
How can we work more closely with our Sunni Arab allies such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and the Gulf states?
How can we mobilize the vast majority of the Muslim world that does not support terrorism in our efforts to defeat the radicals?
I’ll address such critical issues soon as I launch the book tour for my new thriller. Without Warning is about an administration that is blindsided by a series of catastrophic terror attacks by ISIS inside the American homeland, even using chemical weapons. Let’s pray that never happens.
For now, let me just say that I’ve been quite encouraged by the national security team that President Trump has put into place. I’m especially encouraged by the new National Security Advisor, General H.R. McMaster, who is giving serious thought to the best way to communicate the fight.
As the Trump-Pence administration develops its plan to confront Iran, destroy ISIS and strengthen U.S.-Israel relations, it is critical that they also work hard to rebuild America’s ties with key Sunni Arab allies.
I’ve written a great deal about Jordan. But we also need to focus on Egypt.
President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi was routinely ignored and disrespected during the Obama years. This as a serious mistake, and should be promptly corrected.
The Secretaries of State and Defense should visit el-Sisi in Cairo immediately. The White House should also invite the Egyptian leader to visit the President in Washington soon.
El-Sisi came to power amidst the most catastrophic meltdown of Egypt’s social, economic and political order in living memory. He has made mistakes. But he’s making progress, and he needs help.
Here are six big things the Egyptian leader is doing right.
He’s clearly signaling he wants a dramatically improved relationship with the United States. During his September visit to the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, El-Sisi made a point to meet with both candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, positioning himself for improved relations regardless of who won. After the election, he immediately called President-elect Trump to congratulate him. They have continued to speak since then. “Egypt hopes Trump’s presidency will breathe a new spirit into US-Egyptian relations,” declared a statement from el-Sisi’s office soon after the elections.
He’s actively building closer ties with the Christian community. The Egyptian leader has very noticeably been working to reach out to Christians both in Egypt and around the world, and this is to be commended. This was certainly not something Morsi had done. Nor had Mubarak done much of it either. In 2014, el-Sisi visited Pope Francis in Rome. In 2015, for the first time that anyone can remember, Egypt’s president publicly celebrated Christmas with Coptic Christian leaders, and then did so again in 2016. Also in 2016, he vowed to restore dozens of Coptic churchesdamaged or destroyed by terrorists in recent years. In recent months, the Egyptian parliament approved legal measures to make it easier for churches to be built and renovated in Egypt. Overall, what I’m hearing from Christian leaders in Egypt is that they feel the president and the government is sincerely working to protect and assist Christians. That said, much more progress must be made. We need to keep praying for Christians in Egypt. It is still a very challenging environment, especially with Radical Islamist terrorists occasionally attacking Christians and even blowing up churches (such as the bombing of a key Christian church in Cairo in December 2016that killed 29 and wounded dozens more). It’s now time for delegations of Evangelical Christian leaders to reach out to el-Sisi, get to know him and understand his vision for Egypt’s future.
He’s making history by building close and warm ties with the Jewish community. Barely noticed is that fact that the Egyptian leader has been engaged in a truly extraordinary effort to build warm and close ties to the American Jewish community, and for this he deserves enormous credit. In early 2016, el-Sisi welcomed a delegation of 36 American Jewish leaders to Cairo. Indeed, he personally met with representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations for more than two hours, discussing his view of the region and answering their questions. In September 2016, the Egyptian leader met privately with Jewish leaders in New Yorkwhile attending the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly. In December 2016, el-Sisi met with yet another Jewish delegationto Cairo, this time from the American Jewish Congress. Then, just last week, el-Sisi met with another delegation of Jewish leadersin Cairo. During the hour and a half long meeting, the president discussed his efforts to fight terrorism, improve Egypt’s economy, and advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. El-Sisi said the peace process was a top priority for him. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, has been the key interlocutor between Jewish leaders and el-Sisi. He told the Jerusalem Post said “they spoke extensively with Sisi about his country’s relationship with Israel and of hope for a resolution to some outstanding issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which could ‘pave the way for even greater exchanges.'”
Yes, there are human rights violations in Egypt, serious economic challenges and numerous other issues that el-Sisi needs to address.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders are speaking out, as they should. So are the President, senior administration officials and Members of Congress, denouncing these attacks and calling for action to protect the Jewish people.
Over the weekend, in a show of solidarity with the suffering of the Jewish people, Vice President Mike Pence — a devout Evangelical Christian — took his family and advisors to the Dachau concentration campin Germany.
“Today, 11 Jewish community centers received phoned-in bomb threats,” reported the JCC Association of North America.
“This comes in the aftermath of three waves of bomb threats in January (Jan. 9, Jan. 18, and Jan. 31), resulting in, through today, 69 incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province in total,” the JCCANA reported.
“All bomb threats in both January and today have proven to be hoaxes, and all JCCs impacted have returned to regular operations.” Thank God.
President Trump — whose son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is Jewish, and whose daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism to marry him — has been criticized for not speaking out faster or more forcefully.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” the President said, according to the New York Times.
Such hate-driven attacks against Jewish people (or Muslims, or Christians, or atheists or anyone else) are ugly and despicable. Let’s be faithful in praying for them to stop, but let’s also look for ways to take a stand against such hatred, and stand with — and care for — those who are suffering right now.
[I’ll provide updates in the days and weeks ahead.]
[NOTE: the image is the cover of Time magazine from the summer of 2002.]
Book description: “As he prepares to deliver the State of the Union address, the president of the United States is convinced the Islamic State is on the run, about to be crushed by American forces once and for all. But New York Times foreign correspondent J. B. Collins tells the president he’s dead wrong. With the Middle East on fire, the Israeli prime minister dead, and Amman in ruins, Collins fears a catastrophic attack inside the American homeland is imminent. He argues that only an all-out manhunt to capture or kill Abu Kahlif—the leader of ISIS—can stop the attack and save American lives. But will the president listen and take decisive action before it’s too late?”
(Central Israel) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warmly greeted and embraced this week by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and by the Congressional leadership of both parties.
As I told Laura Ingraham on her radio show today, the contrast between what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama years could not be more vivid — “it’s night and day.”
Understandably, the five critical questions I raised on this blog yesterday remain to be answered. It will take some time for the Trump team to define its Mideast policies in all these key areas in granular detail, and for Trump and Netanyahu to come to agreement on how best to work together vis-à-vis Iran, ISIS, the Palestinians, and the extraordinary open door that currently exists with moderate Sunni Arab regimes in the region.
But one thing is crystal clear: U.S.-Israeli relations are stronger and healthier than they have ever been. May our enemies take notice.
A few observations on the dramatic last twenty-four hours:
We finally have an American President who understands that the major threat in the Mideast to the Western world is Radical Islam, and that Israel is a large part of the solution, not the central problem in the region — this is an enormous change from the last eight years and it will have very practical policy effects in the days ahead.
What remains to be seen are the details of the Trump administration to counter the Iran nuclear, missile and terrorism threat.
The good news: Mr. Trump has quickly imposed new economic sanctions on Iran for their illegal missile testing. But much more needs to be done, including moving U.S. military assets — including two aircraft carrier battle groups — into the region to send a clear signal to the ayatollahs in Tehran that there’s a new sheriff in town.
More good news: Trump and Netanyahu both spoke of the importance of reaching out to the Sunni Arab states and finding a way to advance security and peace with them. President Obama consistently refused to work in a pro-active and bold manner with Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States, the Saudis, Morocco and others to counter the Iran and ISIS threats. But something new and positive appears to be emerging.
Yes, President Trump made big headlines by saying he is not committed necessarily to a “two state solution” to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To be clear, Trump didn’t actually say he was opposed to a two-state solution, but he said his position was to ask the parties to negotiate and agree upon something that works for both of them.
In doing so, Trump revealed an understandable degree of skepticism that the Palestinians actually want a two-state solution that involves living in peace next door to a Jewish Israel state.
To be clear: as an Evangelical, I am commanded to love my neighbors and my enemies, and I do love the Palestinians. Indeed, I’m doing my best to get to know Palestinians from all walks of life, and especially Palestinian pastors and Christian ministry leaders, many of whom I count as friends. I sincerely want the Palestinians to live in freedom and opportunity. I long to see their daily lives and future fortunes improved. I want every Palestinian parent to be able to raise their families in security and dignity, free from terrorism, poverty and injustices of all kinds. I’m especially heart-broken to see the tragedy that has befallen the Palestinians in Gaza who live under the tyranny of Hamas and deserve to be liberated immediately.
At the same time, I find myself baffled that Palestinian leaders have consistently rejected a two-state solution for seven decades, ever since they and their colleagues in the Arab world rejected the U.N. Partition Plan in November 1947. In the final months of the British Mandate, the Partition Plan specifically called for the creation of both a Jewish state and a new Arab state West of the Jordan River. It wasn’t all that the Jewish leaders or people of the time wanted, but they said yes. The Palestinian Arabs said no.
The Jordanians built a vibrant, forward-looking state in the aftermath of the British Mandate. So have the Israelis. Why do the Palestinian leaders continue to reject peace, prosperity and progress? They have been offered a sovereign state of their own repeatedly since 1947, yet they say no again and again. It’s deeply painful to watch such rejectionism, and the consequences it has for the average Palestinian person.
What’s more, it’s painful to watch Palestinian school children be taught to glorify terrorists, and to yearn for the destruction of the State of Israel so that they can have all of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. I’m not saying Israel has done everything right over years. Sadly, this is just not the case. But how are we ever going to have calm and security and a meaningful future on both sides if Palestinian children are being taught to embrace hatred and violence? Israeli schools don’t fuel such incitement. Rather, Israeli Jewish children are mandated to learn Arabic from the fifth grade up.
Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu side-stepped using the term “two-state solution.” Many Arabs are furious at this. But let’s be clear: Netanyahu did not rule out two states living side-by-side in peace. Rather, he raised doubts that the Palestinian leadership are serious about making peace.
Specifically, Netanyahu reiterated his key points from his famous 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University — peace with the Palestinians requires two things: 1) Palestinians to accept Israel as Jewish state; 2) Israeli security control west of Jordan River.
Notably, Netanyahu also did not say he was preparing to annex Judea and Samaria (ie, the West Bank), as many in his government are urging him to do (at least to annex “Area C.”)
Hopefully, Arab leaders will examine carefully what Netanyahu did and didn’t say.
Netanyahu did ask Trump for the U.S. to recognize Israel’s annexation (years ago) of the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory critical to our defensible borders. I hope Trump will agree to this. It is inconceivable to imagine the danger Israel would currently be in if the bloodthirsty Assad regime controlled the Golan Heights today (like so many American foreign policy experts insisted over the years should happen).
It is rare for an American President to call out the Palestinian leadership for incitement and teaching hatred to their children in their schools and textbooks, but President Trump was factually and morally correct to do so.
Noteworthy: This is first time since Netanyahu became the Prime Minister of Israel for the first time in 1996 that he has ever had a Republican President to work with.
Netanyahu was beaming during the press conference, and it is clear that there is a much warmer chemistry between him and President Trump than there ever was between him and President Obama.
Also noteworthy: 1) President Trump did not explicitly promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; he said he’d like to and he’s looking at it carefully; 2) Trump told Bibi both sides have to compromise; 3) Trump said he doesn’t want to see more settlement growth, but that this would be discussed further in their private meetings.
Netanyahu will remain in Washington for several days. He had breakfast with Vice President Pence this morning. He met with Speaker Paul Ryan. He met with Congressional leaders from both parties. He’s also doing some media interviews.
Finally, it should be noted that Netanyahu is under investigation by police authorities here in Israel. There is speculation that he could soon be indicted on various charges. It’s not clear whether this is a political witch hunt, or whether the allegations have solid facts supporting them. But it should be noted that it’s possible that Netanyahu could have to step down from office — or could be removed from office — in the months ahead.
Who would replace Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister? Let’s cross that bridge only if we get to it.
For now, let’s pray for both U.S. and Israeli leaders — for wisdom, discernment, clarity, and courage to chart a new and healthier path forward for both countries. Please pray, too, for their families and their advisors, and for Members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — to work together to safeguard America and our allies like Israel from the threats of Radical and Apocalyptic Islam.
[This column is based on my personal beliefs and opinions. I share them in my personal capacity as a dual US-Israeli citizen and an author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-profit organization and takes no political or legislative positions.]
(Central Israel) — As I write this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flying to Washington for his first official meetings with President Trump.
The men have known each other for years, and there is a good chemistry between the two. They met last fall in Trump Tower (see picture above) and have spoken several times by phone since then. There is, therefore, a great deal of optimism among Americans and Israelis that a new, warmer, closer friendship can and will be forged after the deep strains of the Obama-Biden years. Yet there are also concerns regarding just how the Trump relationship with Netanyahu and his government will play out.
What exactly should we be watching for this week? Here are five crucial questions to which I’m looking for answers.
1.) HOW WILL THE TWO LEADERS PREVENT IRAN FROM GOING NUCLEAR? — No issue on Netanyahu’s agenda is more important than undoing the damage of the nuclear dealPresident Obama cut with Iran, the deal the Israeli premier famously called an “historic mistake.”
Most of the GOP candidates during the primary vowed to rip up the deal if they were elected president. But candidate Trump never did. He has certainly blasted the deal as terrible, but rather than scrap it he vowed during the campaign to “police” it and punish Iran the moment they violate its terms. In recent weeks, numerous Trump cabinet officials and advisors have reaffirmed that the President won’t scrap the deal. (See here, here, here, here and here.) During an Oval Office call with Saudi King Salman last month, President Trump vowed to “rigorously enforce” the Iran deal.
Interestingly, since the election Netanyahu has not actually urged Trump to scrap the deal but to “tighten the noose”around Iran’s neck with punishing new sanctions. The Prime Minister has publicly suggested he has at least five additional options the new President could consider vis-à-vis Iran, though he has not explained what those are yet.
The big question then is this: Can Trump and Netanyahu agree on a unified strategy to contain the ayatollahs of Iran and prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons and further testing long-range ballistic missiles, and if so, what exactly will that strategy involve?
2) HOW CAN THEY CONTAIN THE CRISIS IN SYRIA? — Here in Israel, we are watching a modern Arab state implode before our very eyes. More than 500,000 people are dead. Chemical weapons have been used by the Assad regime, and by the Islamic State. The militaries of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Turkey are all operating in the Syrian theater. The refugee crisis is enormous. Millions of Syrians have poured into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
The big question now is this: Can Trump and Netanyahu map out a unified approach to contain the crisis in Syria and prevent it from causing: A) a new war to erupt with Israel; B) a flood of terrorists to spread out into the U.S., Israel, Europe and the Arab world; and C) the destabilization of Jordan and/or other Arab allies?
3) HOW CAN THEY ADVANCE RATHER THAN UNDERMINE THE EMERGING STRATEGIC ALLIANCE WITH THE SUNNI ARAB WORLD? — As I have been writing about for the last several years (see here, here, here, here and here), a quiet but dramatic shift is taking place in the epicenter.
The existential threats posed by Iran and the Islamic State — and the vacuum caused by President Obama’s foolish insistence on retreating from the Middle East — are causing Sunni Arab states to discreetly drop their intense hostility with Israel. Indeed, they are working closely — increasingly closely — with the Jewish State to protect themselves from common enemies. Every few weeks, I’m hearing of more high-level contacts between current and former Israeli leaders and current and former Sunni Arab leaders.
The big questions now are these:
Can Trump and Netanyahu agree on an approach that might deepen and broaden the relationships between Israel and the Sunni Arab states from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco?
Is it even possible to help some of those Sunni states step forward and sign peace treaties with Israel, as Egypt and Jordan have already done? (Yes, this would have seemed fanciful just a few years ago, but it doesn’t seem crazy anymore.)
4) WILL THEY ACTUALLY MOVE THE U.S. EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM, AND IF SO HOW, AND WHEN? — It looked like it was going to happen fast.
Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just told Politico that his impression was that the Trump team initially wanted to move the embassy to Jerusalem in the first moments after the Inauguration.
Candidate Trump insisted he would make the move quickly.
A law passed in a bipartisan fashion and signed by President Clinton in 1996 fully allows President Trump to make the move.
President Trump has appointed a new U.S. Ambassador to Israel — David Friedman — who fully supports moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
However, America’s Sunni Arab allies, and surely the Palestinian leadership, have warned President Trump not to be hasty. They argue such a move could cause a serious backlash against the U.S. on the Arab street and disrupt or even derail the significant progress that is being made behind the scenes in terms of Israeli-Sunni relations.
To his credit, the new President has slowed the process down somewhat. He is rightly listening carefully to a range of counselors on the matter. In the end, this is certainly the President’s decision alone to make.
I do hope he moves the U.S. Embassy to West Jerusalem. This would correct an historic injustice when Washington refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital dating back to 1948. I can’t think of another national capital in any country around the world that America doesn’t recognize and have an embassy located there. Everyone knows that, at the very least, West Jerusalem is going to be Israel’s capital even if and when a peace deal with the Palestinians is completed. Congress and President Clinton agreed on a bipartisan basis to move the embassy to Jerusalem twenty years ago, and we should make good on this commitment. But yes, we should do it wisely, and in close communication and cooperation with our allies. I encourage the President to move forward, to wisely weigh every issue carefully, and to make sure he does not accidentally step on a proverbial landmine in the process.
The big question now is this: Will Trump and Netanyahu agree that this should be done, and if so how, and how quickly — or will they conclude that such a decision regarding the embassy should be slowed down to put more attention on building a global coalition to contain Iran and finding new ways to strengthen the U.S.-Israel-Sunni alliance?
5) HOW WILL THEY STRENGTHEN ISRAELI SECURITY AND IMPROVE THE LIVES OF PALESTINIANS EVEN IF THE PROSPECTS OF A PEACE DEAL ARE MINIMAL RIGHT NOW? — President Trump sees himself as a deal-maker par excellence. He would love to be the guy who solved this problem where no other American president could. He wants to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to focus on make a peace deal.
That said, most observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict see no way to make a comprehensive peace deal any time soon. Here are a few reasons why:
A terrorist organization (Hamas) controls Gaza and has been firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians since Israel withdrew in 2005.
The Palestinian Authority is led by a man (Mahmoud Abbas) serving the twelfth year of a four year term and is unwilling to hold new elections.
The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly rejected generous peace offers made by successive Israeli prime ministers.
The Palestinian leadership has refused since 2009 to come to the table and sit down for bilateral negotiations with Israeli leaders.
Meanwhile, as the world tries to pressure Israel to focus on a two-state solution, Israeli leaders on the center-right are increasingly calling for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and even the annexation of part or all of the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, is cautioning his governing coalition not to overreach and expect the Trump administration to give Israeli leaders everything they want.
The big question now is this: In the absence of a clear path forward in the peace process for now, can Trump and Netanyahu agree on a strategy to improve Israeli security; improve the lives of the Palestinian people by encouraging economic growth, job creation, and the building of new factories, schools, hospitals, roads and other critical infrastructure; and do so in a way that doesn’t undermine — and may even enhance — the quiet alliance emerging between Israel and her Sunni Arab neighbors?
These are big questions. I’m as curious as you are to see what answers emerge. Let’s be praying for wisdom for the two leaders as they and their advisors meet this week.
After a fascinating week in Washington, I just got back to Israel and got the fun news that TODAY Show host Kathie Lee Gifford has finished reading an advance copy of my new novel, WITHOUT WARNING, and loved it.
In a segmentshe did this week with her co-host, Hoda Kotb, called “Favorite Things,” Kathie urged viewers to pre-order the thriller before its March 14th release date. Thanks so much, Kathie — I’m so grateful!
“All right, it’s time to share our favorite things,” Kathie told her audience. “This is actually for Hoda — signed by the author. This is called, WITHOUT WARNING — a J.B. Collins novel by Joel C. Rosenberg. I’ve told you all about his books. This is the end of the trilogy. It is so ripped from the headlines today about the Middle East. You pray to God this never happens. But it’s available for pre-order at Amazon — $17.70 — at Amazon.com. He is a riveting writer!”
Here are excerpts from the column I wrote this week for The Jerusalem Post:
Americans have enough economic challenges at home and geopolitical challenges in the Middle East. They don’t want new troubles with Russia.
They will, therefore, likely give President Donald Trump some initial latitude in his attempts to build a healthier working relationship with Moscow, and hope Saturday’s phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is the start of something positive.
But make no mistake: Americans are extremely wary of the Russian leader. An exclusive new poll finds that most Americans see Putin as a nuclear-armed “czar” who poses a threat to the security of the US and her closest allies, including Israel, and urgently want him contained by a reinvigorated Western alliance….
In November, Putin moved 55,000 troops to the border of Ukraine, raising fresh concerns Russia might be tempted to seize the rest of the former Soviet republic.
Putin is also making threatening moves toward the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Each of these former Soviet republics is now a full NATO member. Under Article Five of the NATO accord, a Russian attack against one would be considered an attack against all of NATO, requiring a response that could suddenly put the US and Western Europe in a hot war with Russia….
….The big question now is this: what manner of leadership will the Trump administration provide after eight disastrous years of the Obama administration, including its famously failed Russian “reset”?
(Washington, D.C.) — Never have the American people needed a solid strategic alliance with friendly Sunni Arab Muslims more than it does right now.
Never has a new American President and his administration had more to gain from carefully listening to — and truly partnering with — a Middle Eastern leader who shares our goals and actually wants to help us.
At a time when the Assad government is destroying Syria, when the Islamic State is slaughtering Muslims and waging genocide against Christians, and when the ayatollahs of Iran are hell-bent on becoming the dominant military power in the Middle East, we urgently need Muslim friends who oppose Radical Islam and Apocalyptic Islam and have the courage to stand against the forces of violent extremism.
At a time when millions of refugees are fleeing from Syria and Iraq, we also need an ally in the region with the compassion and the capacity to take these refugees in and care for them with food, clothing, shelter, and education until stability in their home countries are restored and they can return.
It is flat out wrong to say that all Muslims hate the West, and that there are no moderate Muslims out there. Those who say such things, or imply them, simply have no idea what they are talking about.
There are actually many Muslim allies eager to work with the U.S. against Iran and ISIS and other extremists. Among them: the leaders of Egypt, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, India, Turkey (though that’s a complicated one) and Pakistan (that’s also complicated).
The most impressive of these, as I have written before, is Jordan’s King Abdullah II. He is not simply a direct descendant of the founder of Islam who is beloved by the people he leads; he is also a moderate, a man of peace (including maintaining a treaty with Israel), and far and away the most faithful and trustworthy Sunni Arab ally the Western alliance has. He has welcomed more refugees into his country than any of his neighbors, and his military is actively fighting ISIS and defending his people from the threat ISIS poses.
True, Washington doesn’t agree with the King on every issue. But with what ally do we agree on every issue? The point is that there is a long and proven track record of working side-by-side with His Majesty towards common objectives, and against common enemies.
Thus, it was an honor to attend a luncheon on Thursday — part of the National Prayer Breakfast events — where King Abdullah delivered an excellent keynote address. He spoke on the importance of Christians, Jews and Muslims working together as friends, and on the importance of the U.S. and Jordan working closely together to defeat terrorists that he described as “outlaws” of Islam.
“We especially value our deep friendship with the American people,” said the King. “So I was delighted this year to have another opportunity to join today’s important gathering. Allow me to say it was a special pleasure to greet President Trump at the Breakfast this morning. I’m keen to work with the new administration and our many other friends here in Washington.”
“For those of us who are Muslim, this fight is very personal,” the King explained. “These criminals are khawarej; outlaws to our faith. People nowadays talk about ‘Fake News’; the khawarej produce ‘Fake Islam’. They selectively paste together the words of Islamic texts, to promote a false and perverted ideology. In reality, everything they are, everything they do, is a blatant violation of the teachings of my faith.”
The King added, “I have called on the Muslim world to fight back boldly. We, like other faith communities, have a vast silent majority and it is time for that majority to get loud and to be clear in their condemnation.”
Joined by Queen Rania, His Majesty spoke to some 4,000 government, business and religious leaders from all 5o American states and more than 160 countries.
The King received two rousing and much-deserved standing ovations.
On Monday, Vice President Pence had a working breakfast with the King at the Naval Observatory. The King also met during the week with all the key members of the President’s national security and foreign policy teams, and with many Congressional leaders, both Republicans and Democrats. During my meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of the House and Senate, I kept hearing rave reviews of their meetings with the King.
Most importantly, President Trump’s private meeting with His Majesty on Thursday was reportedly warm and substantive. The President praised the King as a true friend of the U.S. and the two men agreed to work together to strengthen the US-Jordanian partnership.
For now, let’s be grateful these meetings went so well and let’s pray that the relationship between the President and the King grows quickly and deeply. Let’s also pray the two leaders and their teams can work together to build upon the historic if quiet alliance emerging between Israel and the Sunni Arabs to stand against the existential threats posed by Iran and ISIS.
President Obama never understood or capitalized on this enormous opportunity. Let’s hope the Trump-Pence team does.
(Washington, D.C.) — The Twitterverse blew up Thursday almost the moment President Trump started speaking to the 4,000 guests gathered from all over the U.S. and the world — including the King and Queen of Jordan and the Speaker of the Israeli parliament — to attend the National Prayer Breakfast.
I actually thought it was quite good. There were some classic Trump moments that I wish weren’t in there. But overall, I was actually quite impressed with both the speech itself and the measured way he delivered it.
As it happened, Anderson Cooper invited me onto his program that evening to discuss what it was like to be an Evangelical Christian in the ballroom watching the speech, especially as one who used to be a “Never Trumper”.
Please post your comments on my “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook. I’d love your take. I’m already hearing from a lot of people who will never watch CNN. Fair enough. But as Evangelicals we shouldn’t just be talking to ourselves. We need to interact with those who disagree with us. I really appreciated the note from one person who said they haven’t watched CNN in 17 years but did that night to see me. That was very kind!