So far, Trump’s Presidency has been “eventful” to put it lightly. Between the avalanche of news, and high level of controversy, much of the country has been divided into the “never Trumpers” and the “Trump can do no wrong” camps. One of many negative side-effects of this emotionally charged cultural-divide had been the near eradication of unbiased coverage of this Presidency and his policies. This has resulted in a lack of in-depth analysis of many important events. One of the most significant instances of this has been the coverage of Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia. It appears that bias has blinded most analysts to some major revelations into Trump’s policy for the Middle-East and his ideology in general.
In terms of Trump’s Middle-East policy, Trump has made quite a few seemingly contradictory statements and actions over the course of his campaign and Presidency. While he has claimed that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS” among other tough rhetoric, he has also advocated for less U.S. intervention. These, along with his many other seemingly contradictory moves and statements, have made it hard to discern what his strategy is if he has one at all.
However, this changed as he made his strategy clear during the speech he gave recently in Saudi Arabia. It appears that President Trump plans to unite the Middle-Eastern nations willing to work with the U.S. in order to have them be the primary combatants of terrorism, rather than the primary source of it. During his speech, Trump framed the war on terror not as a war against Islam, or even radical Islam, but as a war between “barbarity and decency”. He also acknowledged that that majority of those who have suffered from terrorism have been Muslims, and made clear that the U.S. cannot be the one to solve Islamic terrorism; only the nations of the Middle-East can achieve that. Framing the fight against terrorism in this way is not only accurate, but it also undermines the propaganda narrative that ISIS and other Islamic terror groups have used to recruit fighters to their cause. ISIS propaganda relies on claiming that the West is at war with Islam. Trump has dealt a significant blow to that narrative by shifting the framing away from having anything to do with a religious war, but instead a war between barbarians and civilization.
One aspect of his speech that caught significant criticism was how he seemingly gave a pass to Saudi Arabia’s dismal record of human rights abuses. Some people on both the “left” and “right” were upset that he did not call out the aspects of their cultural that are thought of as deplorable by most Westerners. This particularly surprised many because of the perception that Trump is an “Islamaphobe”. What this revealed, however, is that Trump is actually a lot more liberal (at least in regards to this issue) than almost anyone would have guessed. While some took Trump’s assertion that the U.S. is not here to criticize anyone’s culture or tell other countries how to live or think as a betrayal of U.S. values, it is actually textbook “cultural relativism”.
If this analysis is correct, what at first seemed to be contradictory, is, in fact, part of a larger strategy. Uniting the civilized nations of the Middle-East to fight terrorism is a strategy that keeps his promise to fight terrorism, while also a significant step towards his desire for non-interventionism. If you have not yet listened to his speech I would suggest you do so with an open-mind. There may be a lot more to President Trump and his strategies than most of us have been giving him credit for.
By, Frank Bursese