Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump in Arabia

Sometimes ceremonies speak louder than words.

When President Donald Trump touched down at the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia he was greeted by King Salman. The king had orchestrated an over-the-top welcome, with a military flyover, a lavish cardamom coffee ceremony and a presentation of the kingdom’s highest civilian honor. One notes that the king rode into the city in Trump's limousine. Were they happy to see Trump? You bet. Were they thrilled to be done with Obama and Hillary? You can bet on that one, too? 

Trump did not bow to the king. Melania did not wear a head scarf. And the king stepped forward to extend his hand to Melania Trump. On Obama's last trip to Saudi Arabia Michelle Obama extended her hand to the king. The king refused to reciprocate.

Today, the city of Riyadh is festooned with American and Saudi flags, alongside banners picturing King Salman and President Trump. The two leaders signed a number of deals, too. It is more important, they seemed to be saying, to do business with each other than to sign peace treaties or to hold yet another election.

Compare and contrast this to the welcome the Saudis offered Barack Obama on his last trip to Riyadh, in 2016. Obama was greeted at the airport by the mayor of Riyadh. Of course, the Saudis despised Obama. The president had sold out Hosni Mubarak, had sided with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, had made a mess of North Africa. Had facilitated the war and the carnage in Syria, and had sided with Iran against Sunni Arabs… even to the point of giving Iran access to nuclear weapons.

The Saudis shows respect and friendship toward Donald Trump. They showed contempt for Barack Obama.

Of course, in America it’s nearly the opposite: Americans worship Obama like a Messiah. They are falling all over themselves looking for new ways to disparage Donald Trump.

How could this be happening? How could it be that King Salman and the Arab Sunni world is coming together in Riyadh to celebrate Donald Trump? Today’s events have not yet unfolded as I write this post, but clearly, Trump has accomplished something extraordinary in Saudi Arabia. It more closely resembles Nixon in China than it does Obama bending over for the mullahs. Apparently, the Saudis were not very impressed when Barack Obama bowed down to their king.

It is perhaps redundant to say so, but the Saudis would never have accorded the same respect to Hillary Clinton. Given her record in North Africa and her effort to legitimize Mohamed Morsi, they would not have rolled out the red carpet to forge a strategic alliance with her. If they had wanted to deal with Hillary they would have made a contribution to the Clinton Global Initiative and invited Bubba to give a million dollar speech.

So, what is this ceremonial welcome telling us? Many American commentators, unable to stop trashing Trump and America, cannot figure out why the Saudis are happy to welcome Trump after Trump said some rather harsh things about Islam. They also have their knickers in a twist over the fact that Trump has chosen to make his first foreign trip as president to the nation that financed the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

What do they see in Trump? For one thing, Trump has been affirming his patriotism. He has been affirming his loyalty to his nation and its greatness. He is not apologizing for America and is not running around bad mouthing his country and declaring himself to be a citizen of the world. And Trump has rejected the policy of appeasement so dear to the Obama administration and the weak-kneed Europeans.

Think of it this way: if Obama could not show pride in his country how could anyone trust him? If Obama was backstabbing America’s allies, in Egypt and in Israel, why would anyone want to be his ally. If you do not love your country, why would you assume that you can be trusted to keep your word to us.

As I have been arguing, the Saudis have been showing signs of wanting to modernize. They have rid their schoolbooks of anti-Semitic propaganda, established preliminary ties with Israel, cut their funding for the Palestinian authority, and now, forged a strategic alliance to fight Islamist terrorism.

In the war on terror, this is certainly an important, even a defining moment. Hasn’t international Islamist terrorism been an attack on the Great Satan and the Little Satan? Didn’t the Sunni and Shia Muslims find a common enemy in the United States and Israel? Weren’t they saying that Western modernization was a corrupting process, one that good Muslims should avoid? Wasn’t their support for the Palestinian cause an attack on Western civilization?

The Saudi embrace of America and its president signals that that era is over. The ceremony makes it clear that America is a friend, an ally in the war against Islamist terrorism. And it also makes clear that Saudi support for foreign terrorist organizations will stop. One would also like to think that Wahhabi schools around the world will cease to incubate anti-Western terrorism. After all, that Muslim sect holds all non-Muslims in contempt.

Considering that Saudis have had a role in so much international terrorism, it seems fitting that they should call it off, put an end to it, and to do so by embracing a strategic alliance with the United States. And to bring together the leaders of the Sunni world in a ceremony that announces that they have rejected terrorism, that they will no longer use it to advance their cause. The ceremony sends a remarkably clear message. Obviously, this is not going to stop terrorism. Shia Iran is still in the game... but their strategic calculus has now changed.

And yet, Trump did speak ill of Islam. Doesn’t that irritate the Saudis? Perhaps, not as much as you think. I suspect that the Saudis have come to recognize that terrorism has not only accomplished very little, but it has damaged the reputation of Islam around the world.

While multicultural Westerners are whining about Islamophobia, Donald Trump was sufficiently honest to recognize that the reputation of Islam depends mostly on the behavior of Muslims. If every time you hear of Islam you hear about a terrorist bombing of innocent civilians—Muslim and non-Muslim—you will naturally associate the two. It takes a brutal mental contortion to brainwash yourself into not associating these actions with Islam.

So, the Saudi leadership, especially the crown prince, has decided to turn the page. It has decided to present a new face of Islam to the world. And it has decided to show that Islam can interact with other peoples from different faiths, not only to do business, but to show them respect and even to honor them.

It seems to be an extraordinary moment, one that might very well lead to a reformation within Islam. We imagine that when Nixon went to China he was taking the first step toward opening the Middle Kingdom to the outside world. We recall that China did not reform overnight, that it took years before even the most rudimentary forms of free enterprise were allowed. Thus, we should not imagine that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states will instantly change. But, clearly change is afoot.

Among the losers in this transformation and reformation are the Palestinians. Being the laboratory for terrorism, the Palestinians have been funded and supported by Sunni and Shia states as the vanguard in a struggle against the West. It would now appear that for the Saudis, this struggle has largely outlived its usefulness and that it is costing more than it is gaining. One suspects that the Palestinians will be more willing to negotiate a settlement with Israel.

Another loser, Vladimir Putin. At the end of the Obama administration Putin was running wild in Syria and Iran. He was strong enough to exclude America from peace talks. When the Saudi king bemoaned the nightmare that is Syria—nightmare they blame largely on Barack Obama—he was also rejecting any potential alliance with Russia. Today, while many Americans imagine that Trump is Putin’s puppet, or worse, the truth is that Putin has been relegated to the sidelines in the Middle East. The new strategic alliance between America and Sunni Arabs excludes him.

At this weekend’s summit, Vladimir Putin is the second biggest loser. If he had imagined that Trump would do his bidding, he miscalculated bigly. 

The biggest loser is Barack Obama. His legacy in the Middle East could not have been more definitively repudiated.


trigger warning said...

"The [Obama] White House was scrambling Monday to put a positive face on an upcoming summit of Persian Gulf states after learning leaders from four of the six invited nations are expected to skip.[... Josh] Earnest confirmed Monday that Saudi King Salman would no longer attend, noting the king originally had accepted the invitation."
--- Fox News (5/2015)


Sam L. said...

"What do they see in Trump? For one thing, Trump has been affirming his patriotism. He has been affirming his loyalty to his nation and its greatness. He is not apologizing for America and is not running around bad mouthing his country and declaring himself to be a citizen of the world. And Trump has rejected the policy of appeasement so dear to the Obama administration and the weak-kneed Europeans." Which will make the Dems and their media accomplices so MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDDD.

"One suspects that the Palestinians will be more willing to negotiate a settlement with Israel." I do not see that happening, unless and until monetary support is cut off, and even then it will take at least a couple of years. I think they're crazed enough to hold out.

Ares Olympus said...

It was nice that Trump could stick to a script and read his speech straight true today. Here's the transcript.

The $110 billion dollar military investment certainly stand out, although apparently there was a similar reversed-deal with Obama that was reversed.
Back in September, the Obama administration approved a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis. But as the death toll and reports of human rights violations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen began to rise dramatically, the Obama administration nixed the sale of the precision-guided munitions it had originally agreed to put in the deal to try to coerce the Saudis into curbing those atrocities.

Now those munitions are back in the Trump arms package — which speaks volumes about this administration.
Trump seems more than willing to cast aside the growing evidence of the kingdom’s brutal actions in Yemen in order to pass an arms deal — especially if he thinks he can get something out of it in return.

And that’s precisely why Saudi Arabia — and numerous other countries who have been lectured about human rights by the Obama administration for the past eight years — are so happy to have Trump in the Oval Office now. It’s much easier to commit massive human rights abuses when the people selling you weapons don’t particularly care how you use them, as long as you pay up.

Trump also said: "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."

I might interpret that to mean "As long as you can pay, we don't care what you do with our weapons."

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The REAL courage to fight the world's most dangerous and menacing figures is exercised by the powerful, silent testimony of graduates at the University of Notre Dame:

They learned a lot at America's premier Catholic university, didn't they? No doubt Papa Francisco is most pleased, as he soon will welcome America's president inside his walled palace on the Vatican Hill.

We can now safely conclude that the whisperings of joy and welcome for a "President Pence" would be short lived.

I'd love a stat on how many of these standout walkouts are graduating from programs in the liberal arts. Universities are Leftist seminaries, and I recommend action against student loan ratios for people in the very-very-Leftist arts. Otherwise, they're just minting activists without any intellect at all, and with poor manners/decorum to boot. What do we, the citizens, get for our massive subsidies?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The most powerful, visible and refreshing statement of the visit is Melania Trump not wearing a headscarf. The Saudis don't dress like us when they come to the USA.

The Obamatrons and Shrillary people are so offended, amplifying each and every perceived cultural slight or snark, sending symbolic tweets to the first Muslim-American to compete in an Olympics, but no congrats to a white woman who's one of the most decorated Olympians ever because her sport uses........... (gasp!).......... FIREARMS!!!!! If these clowns had any self-awareness at all, they'd realize how patronizing, phony, shallow and transparent they are. And these politicians are the beautiful people so endowed with cultural sensitivity, those who have cornered the market on "caring."

Yet Lefties never do mission trips to Saudi Arabia, do they? No, no, no... that's where courage ends. So we get Vagina hats on the D.C. Mall, but no shrieking presence in the Kingdom of Saud. No army of feministas at the wheel of their automobile, clogging the streets of Riyadh with a traffic jam protest.

Ever wonder why that is?

Melanie Trump was dignified, confident and unpretentious in her appearance. That's winning without "winning."

And I'm sure Michelle Obama is still hopping mad that her hand was not welcomed by a medieval misogynist royal figure her husband bowed to. What a disgrace.

trigger warning said...

"If these clowns had any self-awareness at all..."

The Pussyhats are a Chinese import.

I guarantee none of those knuckle-dragging Proglodyte numptyetttes knows how to knit, so they import them from sweatshops in a country that practices preferential female abortion selection.


Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Melanie Trump was dignified, confident and unpretentious in her appearance. That's winning without "winning."

Winning is so easy for you, that's good. Unfairly for me, her good behavior was assumed to be a given.

But for those who want to see, it looks like Trump was tricked into a bow by having that medal placed around his neck. At least the Saudi King didn't do anything too humiliating to Trump in the moment of submission. Perhaps photographs were enough.

Apparently one nature of tribal partisanship is we express our pride through home team (or the underdog), and express our shame through the opposition (or the bad big bully).

And when the home team captain gets together with his best friend forever as equals, that's a moment to be remembered in picture forever.

trigger warning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trigger warning said...

"a moment to be remembered in picture forever"

No medal involved. Just a ladylike grovel.


trigger warning said...

As an afterthought, Buraq's bow got his ass pretty high in the air...

Of course, in fairness, Buraq's had more practice bending over.

James said...

There is a lot of truth in what you say Stuart. Also I think the Saudis who for years have had a devil's bargain with the domestic hardcore Islamist (Wahabis) of keep it out of the Kingdom and we'll look the other way and give you money have decided that the Iranis have become a much greater threat. This partly explains the Saudi movement towards Israel and the US.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's a fair perspective to me. We are foolish to try to demonize and isolate the Shiite dominated Iran since this only strengthens the power wielded there by hard-line clerics. Iran is just as divided as Saudi Arabia, and we're making it harder for the moderates and reforms. Iran is fighting against the Sunni/Wahhabi ISIS terrorists.

So as usual, we've taken foolish sides - in favor of dictatorial wealth and power. The deal is no worse that Obama's middle ground, except we're promising to turn our eyes against human rights abuses, and suppression of women, and the wars that will be committed with the billions of dollars of weapons we are selling. Its a win-win for people who have wealth and power.
As Trump lambasted terrorism, without pondering its sources, he was standing in the country that provided 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 and has been the fountainhead — through its religious establishment and consistent funding — of the fanatical, anti-Western, anti-women and puritanical strain of Sunni Islam central to the credo of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The Islamic State [ISIS] is, of course, Sunni. Iran is not. But in case anyone thought Trump was serious in uniting Muslim forces against Islamic State terror, he acceded to the wishes of his Saudi hosts (shared by Israel) and attacked Iran as the source of “destruction and chaos across the region.”

His words will fan the most bitter rivalry in the Middle East, the source of several surrogate wars, that between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The United States should not play this incendiary game. It should be attempting, rather, to build Sunni-Shia bridges. Isolating Iran, as Trump urged, is a fool’s errand. Iran is too big to isolate; such a strategy will benefit hard-liners in Tehran determined to thwart the steady reformist push of the nation’s youth.

Trump’s Iran diatribe was particularly grotesque in that it came as President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote and crowds in Tehran demanded greater freedom. Iran is a repressive society that pursues anti-American objectives in the region; it is also a large island of stability and a society with far greater representative and participatory forces than Saudi Arabia. Anyone who fails to see a glimmer of hope in Iran is blind.

Rouhani trounced a hard-line cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, favored by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. It was clear once again, as with the nuclear deal, that Khamenei has to arbitrate between competing forces in an Iranian society that is anything but monolithic. The theocratic and civic states coexist in uneasy symbiosis. One day something must give.

Its discussed here as well: