(Washington, D.C.) — Wow. Readers of this blog know I have never been shy about expressing my concerns about Mr. Trump when necessary. But the President deserves a great deal of credit for going to meet with our Sunni Arab allies in the Mideast and for the speech he delivered yesterday in Saudi Arabia to the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries.
Finally we have an American President who wants to project American leadership — that of the world’s only superpower — in the Middle East.
The address was well-crafted and respectful, even nuanced, at times. But it was also clear, honest, and bold. Indeed, it was unlike any speech any American President has ever delivered face to face to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan and other Muslim countries. Below, you’ll find key excerpts, a link to the full transcript and a link to the video of the full 34 minute speech. I would encourage you to both watch and read the address in full.
A few first impressions:
- The President rightly thanked America’s Sunni Muslim allies for their friendship and hospitality, he honored their historic achievements, rich culture and heritage, and he reached out a hand of friendship and support against common enemies.
- The President made it clear that the U.S. seeks “partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals” — he thanked specific countries by name for working with the U.S. to fight terrorism.
- It was good to see the President be so respectful of the vast majority of Muslims who are not jihadists and want to fight terrorism — this was particularly notable given that as a candidate he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. (though he has since rightly modified that position).
- At the same time, the President was commendably clear and refreshingly honest that the region must confront “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.” I was stunned but pleased to see the President dramatically warn that the souls of the radicals who kill innocents will be “condemned.” It was a line that echoed the brilliant and courageous speech given by Egyptian President el-Sisi at Al-Azhar University several years ago. This is no small matter. No other American President has ever made such direct statements on “Islamist extremism” in the heart of the Muslim world.
- The President rightly called out Iran and ISIS as the most dangerous and destabilizing forces in the region — he called for “eradicating ISIS,” then put special emphasis on working closely with the Sunnis to counter the Iranian threat. This was a sharp and very welcome contrast to President Obama’s approach of appeasing Iran.
- The President rightly noted the history of coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the region’s past, and urged the Muslim world to make peace with Israel — then explained he was headed to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to advance between the Israelis and Palestinians. He offered no specifics. Perhaps he can create a breakthrough in the peace process — he certainly believes he can — though I concede I’m somewhat skeptical for reasons I’ll write about soon.
- Overall, the speech will likely be very well received in the region — in addition with the President’s individual meetings with Arab leaders at the White House, the visit and speech will help re-set America’s alliances in the Arab Muslim world, which were terribly strained and dishonored during the Obama years. Indeed, the President’s visit is highlighting an increasingly unified U.S.-Sunni-Israeli alliance against Iran’s Shia apocalypticism and regional aggression. These are important and positive developments. Let’s pray the administration can carefully and wisely build on what was accomplished.
UPDATE: I commend to your attention this analysis by Amos Yadlin, a former senior intelligence chief in Israel. “The royal welcome the President received in Saudi Arabia and his meetings with a long list of Arab and Muslim leaders provide him with numerous accomplishments, [including] the image of the authoritative leader of a superpower [and] the demonstration of a united front against Iran and the Islamic State….”
- I stand before you as a representative of the American People, to deliver a message of friendship and hope. 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. In my inaugural address to the American People, I pledged to strengthen America’s oldest friendships, and to build new partnerships in pursuit of peace. I also promised that America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust….
- To the leaders and citizens of every country assembled here today, I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce….
- There can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it…..
- If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing—then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God.
- This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between Good and Evil….
- America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH….
- [T]here is…much work to do. 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….
- We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals….
- From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room….
- Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region….
- 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 and 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.
- President Trump’s Speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit (official White House transcript)
- Video Replay: President Trump Addresses the Arab Islamic American Summit In Riyadh (full 34 minute video)
- Video Clip — Trump to Arab Leaders: Drive Extremists Out Of Your Lands And Your Holy Places; “Drive Them Out!”
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