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President Trump
in Saudi Arabia

President Trump has given the right speech in the right place at the right time. Quite apart from the terrible scourge of Trump Derangement Syndrome currently sweeping the country, there will always be Presidential critics on issues like human rights and Yemen, but the Trump had a different aim — and one that was dead on target.

He needed to reassure the Saudis and the roughly 50 other leaders meeting in the Kingdom that he wasn't anti-Islamic and didn't consider Islam an enemy. He did exactly that.

He began his speech by thanking his hosts. He mentioned an historical meeting between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, and went on to “extend my deep and heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of the distinguished heads of state who made this journey here today. You greatly honor us with your presence, and I send the warmest regards from my country to yours. I know that our time together will bring many blessings to both your people and mine.”

Courtesy and respect don’t make for flashy news stories, but they do make friends and strategic partners in a dangerous world.

He said that he stood before them “as a representative of the American People, to deliver a message of friendship and hope. That is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic Faith.” Courtesy and respect don’t make for flashy news stories, but they do make friends and strategic partners in a dangerous world. They're particularly important in the Arab world, especially given the way that candidate Trump often spoke of Islam during the campaign last year.

The president then went on to make it clear that America’s need and desire for strategic partners meant cultivating America’s oldest friendships — which include several Arab states: “America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust," said the President. "Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor to God.”

He spoke respectfully of Arab history and culture, and of the importance for economic progress, noting that “Saudi Arabia is home to the holiest sites in one of the world’s great faiths. Each year millions of Muslims come from around the world to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj. In addition to ancient wonders, this country is also home to modern ones — including soaring achievements in architecture.” He mentioned the positive elements of the many strategic partners win attendance — emphasizing the importance of each partner in the process.

Trump spoke candidly about what he expected from the countries present in the battle against terrorism: “There can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it ... America is prepared to stand with you in pursuit of shared interests and common security ... But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.”

“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists," he continued. "Drive them out. Drive them 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 ... That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires ... It means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians ... . Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear ... And political leaders must speak out to affirm the same idea: heroes don’t kill innocents. They save them.”

"The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams."

These are bold statements but they will resonate across the Islamic world. “The deadliest toll has been exacted on the innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations," said the President. "They have borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in this wave of fanatical violence ... Some estimates hold that more than 95 percent of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim.”

He highlighted “a humanitarian and security disaster in this region that is spreading across the planet. It is a tragedy of epic proportions ... The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams.”

Most Muslims who hear these words will agree with them. They will take heart hearing them from a strategic partner.

President Trump also made sure to emphasize the threat from the Iranian government as a core priority of the U.S. strategic partnership with the Arab world, was careful to distinguish it from the Iranian people, many of whom clearly do not support its extremism. He called Iran “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 ... Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes.”

At the same time, he did not shy away from the issue of Israel and the need for broad religious tolerance. He said, “For many centuries the Middle East has been home to Christians, Muslims and Jews living side-by-side. We must practice tolerance and respect for each other once again, and make this region a place where every man and woman, no matter their faith or ethnicity, can enjoy a life of dignity and hope ... If these three faiths can join together in cooperation, then peace in this world is possible, including peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

One speech cannot, of course, change Arab or Muslim perceptions of the president or of the United States. Much depends on events in the coming years. But words are also important. This time, the president used the right words to begin rebuilding the foundations of America’s strategic partnerships in the Muslim world and Middle East, and to directly address urgent threats. This speech is an excellent beginning — it deserves bipartisan respect.

See video coverage of President Trump's Egypt visit and a transcript of his speech to Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi.