Donald Trump made an important speech on May 21at the Arab Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia that was quickly forgotten in the cacophony of tweets, accusations and other news surrounding the president. It is worth looking at that address more closely, however, because he laid out in the starkest terms yet the truth about what amounts to a world war that few people want to acknowledge. The speech also clearly distinguishes Trump’s policies from those of his predecessor by explicitly identifying Islamic extremism as a global threat, acknowledging Jewish, Christian and Muslim victims and singling out the genocidal regime in Iran for its role in destabilizing the region.
Trump was uncharacteristically diplomatic in choosing to avoid use of the term “radical Islam” in front of the Muslim leaders assembled before him, but he otherwise did not mince words in delineating the threat facing them as well as the West:
Here at this summit we will discuss many interests we share together. 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 of terrorism.
While the president said he hoped the summit would be remembered for ushering in peace in the Middle East, he said that “future can only be achieved through defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it.”
Trump denied the clash was between civilizations. Echoing George W. Bush, he said, “This is a battle between good and evil.”
His message was unequivocal: “There can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it.”
The president put the onus on the Muslim and Arab leaders in the room to solve the problem. He said America would stand with them, but they would have to decide whether they were willing to do what is necessary to assure a brighter future:
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 (emphasis in original).
Though he was focused on ISIS, his words applied equally to Hezbollah when he called on the assemblage to “ensure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.” He complimented the Gulf Cooperation Council for designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization last year and the Saudis for sanctioning a senior leader of the group.
He asked the leaders to confront Islamist extremism and the terror groups it inspires, which, he said, means “standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.”
In yet another striking departure from his predecessor, Trump singled out Iran for its nefarious policies:
But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment…. 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.
Trump understands that Muslims must solve the problem of Islamic extremism; the war with radical Islam cannot be won with American arms. He is also correct in recognizing we cannot pretend there is no war and avoid the battlefield.
The United States must work with the Muslim countries to defeat radical Islam with one caveat; we also must be careful not to ignore the role that some of these nations, such as Saudi Arabia, play in promoting the ideology we are fighting.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.