In a landmark address to major leaders of the Arab and Muslim world this weekend, President Trump spoke of a renewed relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world, united in a fight against extremism, and bound by the concept of ‘principled realism.’
Speaking in Saudi Arabia in a grand ballroom before the assembled representatives from 55 Arab and Muslim countries, Trump described the fight against Islamic extremism as a “battle between Good and Evil,” and went to great lengths to distinguish between Islam as a religion from its radicalized adherents like ISIS and al Qaeda.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” he said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”
And with all the talk about an ongoing battle between forces of good and evil, the Trump administration is taking serious and tangible steps to show commitment to that very conflict, signing a historic $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis that was touted as an economic boon to both countries, but is more significant in its timing and messaging.
The Saudi economy has suffered greatly in the last few years, and the ongoing and costly war in Yemen against Houthi rebels and Iranian surrogates is draining the Kingdom’s coffers and morale. The Obama administration’s intentional distancing from the Kingdom was a serious blow to U.S.-Saudi relations, and Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad sends an important message about realigning U.S. priorities in the region.
Much of the Obama administration’s heartburn over supporting the Saudis stemmed from their abysmal human rights records, both internally and in their prosecution of the war in Yemen. But in addressing his efforts to “begin a new chapter that will bring lasting benefits to our citizens,” Trump tempered any criticisms of Saudi human rights violations with an allusion to “principled realism.” A consistent theme in Trump’s address was that the United States will not seek out interventionism:
“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,” Trump said.
“We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.”
While it’s still far too early to begin defining things like a “Trump Doctrine,” the new administration has nonetheless taken steps to signal a departure from the Obama era. It is shaping to be a foreign policy that looks increasingly willing to stake American national security interests ahead of those of lesser consequence, in Trump’s eyes, at least.
Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang