Trump’s shift in Saudi Arabia: “Confronting Iran and terror, Islam is our ally”

It’s been a while, perhaps an eternity, since Trump, during the election campaign said that Islam was in itself a religion of hate and therefore, of terrorism, so much so as to warrant a travel ban on those coming from several Islamic country.

Yesterday, in Riyadh, in front of about fifty Muslim leaders hailing from all Arab countries (facing crowned heads like King Abdullah of Jordan, strong presidents such as Egypt’s Al-Sisi, as well as weak leaders like Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, and above all with the benevolent frown of the elderly King Salman) Trump passionately declared that Muslims are vital allies in a ruthless and definitive war against terrorism. He used drastic and definitive rhetoric: drive them out of your communities, places of worship, and from this earth… Muslims themselves are the main victims, he said, of these “barbaric criminals,” just like Christians, Muslims, and listen well because never has a president dared to denounce it before a crowd of Islamic leaders, Jews.

Perhaps Trump, who was greeted with the splendor of “Arabian Nights”, in a dream-like hall, with gifts and reverences (moreover reciprocated) simply couldn’t resist as other hopeful politicians before him the usual temptation to establish a new Middle East.

But there is some hope this time: his speech outlines a shift from Obama’s preference for Iran to a pragmatic pro-Sunni option. Moreover, it puts the Islamic Republic “on notice” repeatedly, along with the general exasperation towards terrorism. The latter is entirely new: namely it comes down to Trump’s basic idea of forming a moderate coalition headed by Saudi Arabia (that in one fell swoop has casually removed some of its terrible human rights violations and funding for extremist madrasas) and outlines two ways in which to guarantee it.

The first revolves around economic convenience, and Trump is specialized in this field: the chances of success are closely linked to the multi-billion-dollar deals signed during this visit for the sale of American weapons that, as the president has repeatedly said, will bring “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and the Saudis will obtain deadly weapons capable of keeping its most dangerous enemy at bay: in other words, Iran. Trump spoke of the need for the Middle East’s youth to live in a modern, rich, and advanced world, in prosperity and peace. Connected to this, the second main aspect of Trump’s policy is the need to contain Iran, the Shiite enemy that already has the entire Sunni world, Saudi Arabia and Egypt first and foremost, shaking in worry: Trump didn’t ease up on his criticisms toward the ayatollahs and even issued threats towards the end of his speech, he spoke about renewing sanctions and cutting financial backing to anyone who doesn’t use funds for peace, and supports terrorism, i.e. Iran. Or may be also the use of international help to fund terrorist Palestinian activities, like the Palestinian authority does. Moreover, he reminded everyone of Iran’s support for terrorism and even, in front of that assembly! About its repeated intention of destroying Israel. Then, he outlined the moral horror of those who support a figure like Assad who has killed his own citizens with nerve gas. Again: Iran

In short, Iran was slammed in his speech as an enemy that causes instability and violence. Trump also very clearly defined the first enemies to beat quoting not only Daesh (or rather ISIS),but also Hezbollah (currently used in Syria as Assad’s partners along with their master, Iran), and, on par with the terrorism that Israel is affected by to that of the rest of the world, Hamas. By doing so Trump didn’t care about justly pointing at a not minor problem for Abu Mazen, who is still trying to unite with these brothers who openly declare themselves terrorists, rulers of an Islamo-fascist regime in Gaza.

Trump, despite his great storm at home, was brave, and showed that he was in great shape even while dancing the traditional dance of the Saudi warriors. Ivanka and Melania free heads waved their hair under the ancient noses of the Saudi dignitaries and the cunning eyes of all those young, muscular princes who in the sparkling gold and silver room of the speeches, fiddled with their cell phones and giggled among themselves under immaculately pressed keffiyeh.

In general, this meeting had in common with those of Obama’s solely the repetition of the mantra that no one dreams of dictating to the Islamic world how it should live and in what it should believe. But it truly paves the way for a new moment, if not a new era. Of course Trump, on his way to Israel, also announced his intention of bringing about a peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Well, American presidents always say this. Yesterday, however, that chapter begun with Trump’s visit to the Western Wall in an extremely renovated friendly attitude toward Israel.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (May 22, 2017)

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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