RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (USA Today) President Trump urged leaders of Muslim countries to stand up against what he calls “Islamic extremism” on Sunday, adopting a tough stance on terror that nonetheless attempts to soften the anti-Muslim rhetoric of his campaign for president.
The use of that terminology appears to be something of a compromise: During the presidential campaign, Trump criticized President Obama for refusing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase Obama said would alienate the Muslim allies that the United States most needs to combat terrorism.
In an ornate conference hall in the Saudi capital, and speaking to a group of leaders from 50 Islamic nations, Trump called on Muslims to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamist and Islamic terror of all kinds.”
That means “standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians,” Trump said at the Arab Islamic American Summit.
But Trump also rejected the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric espoused by some of his more nationalistic advisers. His chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has called Islam “the most radical religion” in the world and warned of a “major shooting war” in the Middle East.
While “Islamic” can refer to any aspect of the Muslim faith, “Islamist” refers more specifically to a fundamentalist ideology that espouses Islamic law as the basis of society.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” Trump said.”This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people all in the name of religion…
“This is a battle between good and evil.”
White House aides said that different teams of speechwriters had been working on as many as five different drafts of the speech, and that Trump worked to reconcile those different ideas into his own address.
The result was a speech clearly directed at two audiences — leaders from 50 Muslim countries assembled in Riyadh for the summit, and Americans back home.
“America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens,” Trump said. To reconcile those “America first” policies with his attempts to build global coalitions, Trump promised that U.S. foreign policy would be guided by what he called “principled realism.”
To the Muslim leaders, Trump said the United States will seek “gradual reforms – not sudden intervention” in areas like human rights.
“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said, echoing a common conservative critique of Obama’s foreign policy speeches. “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 all of us.”
Trump’s much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world came amid a day of meetings with Middle Eastern leaders on the second of a nine-day foreign trip.
In one-on-one meetings with the leaders of Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Trump hawked American-made military equipment in an effort to have those countries pay for a greater share of their own defense.
“One of the things that we will discuss is the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States,” Trump said in a meeting with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. “And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.”
Despite some of his harsher anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign (“I think Islam hates us,” he once said), Trump continued to receive a warm welcome from Arab leaders in the Saudi capital.
“You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told Trump at their meeting Sunday.
“I agree,” the president responded. “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man.”
Even before the speech, the Saudi government applauded Trump for taking a “very bold and very historic step” to change the conversation — even using Trump-like language to describe the effort.
“If we can change the conversation in the Islamic world from enmity towards the U.S. to partnership with the U.S., and if we can change the conversation in the U.S. and the West away from enmity toward the Islamic world toward a partnership, we will have changed our world,” Saudi Foreign Minister Abel al-Jubeir told reporters Saturday. “We will have truly drowned the voices of extremism and we will have drained the swamps from which extremism and terrorism emanates.”
To drain that swamp, Trump will also emphasize some of the same tools President Obama did. He’ll tour a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh on Sunday, and participate in a “Tweeps Forum” intended to combat extremism on social media.
But in addition to those strategies, Trump also emphasized the collective use of hard power. On Saturday, he inked a $110 billion arms sales agreement with Saudi Arabia, a deal the White House said would create U.S. jobs and have Saudi Arabia begin to take more responsibility for regional security.
Some Democrats have sharply criticized that the weapons sales. “This arms deal will enable Saudi Arabia to use U.S.-made weapons in their war crimes against Yemeni civilians in a brutal civil war, and continue perpetuating human rights atrocities at home and abroad,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.
Trump also signed an agreement with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — on terrorism financing.
Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell described the agreement as the “farthest reaching commitment” to date on cutting off funding for terrorism, with the Gulf countries agreeing to work closely with the U.S. Treasury Department.
“The unique piece of it is that every single one of them are signatories on how they’re responsible and will actually prosecute the financing of terrorism, including individuals,” she said.