President Trump yesterday painted a stark new portrait of U.S. goals in the Middle East in a speech that exhorted Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to vanquish extremists and signaled the U.S. is abandoning long-standing ambitions to spread freedom and transform the region, analysts said.
Trump, speaking yesterday to the Arab Islamic American Summit, the centerpiece address of his two-day visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, said America was “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 for us all,” Trump said. “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.”
Bradley Schreiber, president of Homeland Security Solutions and a former senior adviser for the Department of Homeland Security, said Trump plainly states the American posture in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
“It’s the message that we have said in various tenors and tones in the past, and it’s something that’s just a truism — you can’t fight a war like this one-handed,” Schreiber said. “You have to have those who are contributing, if you will, to the root causes of these problems get much more involved.”
Trump also signaled that America is willing to look past the shortcomings of potential allies in the fight for peace.
“We must seek partners — not perfection — and to make allies of all who share our goals,” the president said, speaking in a dictatorship where beheadings and lashings are common and women have few rights.
The speech was notably bereft of entreaties about human rights, democracy and being on the right side of history — staples of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s speeches on fighting terror in the Islamic world, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.
“He’s saying, ‘Forget all of that, I’m telling you right now, our No. 1 concern is putting these guys down, and however we can work together to make that happen, that’s great,’ ” O’Connell said.
A key part of that strategy, O’Connell said, will be arms deals such as the one Trump announced with the Saudis this weekend, to provide the country with $110 billion in tanks, fighter jets, combat ships and the THAAD missile defense system.
“He’s trying to bring them close, to make them economically reliant on us and therefore it means they’re more likely to do what we want them to do, while making the case it’s also in their own best interest,” O’Connell said.
In the speech, Trump backed off the term “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase that, on the campaign trail, he had frequently criticized Obama for not using. Instead, he condemned “Islamists.”
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” said the president, who has sought to ban travelers from six Muslim-majority countries. “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.”
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