Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia took some risks but could open a door

In a sweeping and wide ranging set of remarks, President Trump launched into his much anticipated address to the Muslim world. This was a moment which could have really gone off the rails if the President had begun freestyling and dropped back into campaign mode, but this wound up being one of the most impressive speeches of his presidency in front of an audience which definitely contained elements who might be skeptical of him at best. He announced several initiatives in cooperation with not only Saudi Arabia but other nations in the region. His key focus was, of course, terrorism, calling on those who would be allies with the United States in fighting a common enemy which kills more Muslims than anyone else around the world. And yes… he used the phrase Islamic terrorism.

Fox News had a preview of the comments and the President largely stuck to them.

“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,” Trump is expected to say according to excerpts of his speech. “Our friends will never question our support, and our enemies will never doubt our determination.”

Trump will tell Muslim leaders that the only way to combat radical terrorism is “if the forces of good are united” and calls for countries to do their “fair share” in the fight.

“America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security,” he will say.

Trump was clearly well prepared with the right notes to hit in terms of the history of the region and he included plenty of praise for most of the nations represented, touching on both their deep history, historic achievements and modern marvels in engineering, architecture and energy. Some in the media were quick to note all the praise, with Kelly O’Donnell calling it a charm offensive.

Trump went on to repeat his call for cooperation, declaring that America was ready to be a partner with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, but insisted that it was “a choice that America can’t make for you.” He promised our help and partnership in building a more prosperous and successful future as long as Muslim majority nations were willing to root out their extremist elements and “drive them out” of “their places of worship” and their homes. He repeated the phrase drive them out three times and it was the moment several news outlets picked up on. It was some risky sounding rhetoric compared to the more milquetoast speeches we’ve heard in years past, but it definitely sounded sincere.

One of his high points came near the end where he reminded his audience of the three Abrahamic religions and called for a new era of tolerance between them. But after all of his complimentary comments about other Muslim nations, Trump took a decidedly critical tone when he called out Iran in particular and Syria to a lesser extent. Invoking “murderous attacks” and a humanitarian crisis, Trump talked about the people of Iran enduring “hardship and despair” under a brutal authoritarian regime. This was another risky move, because he seems to be looking to further isolate Iran even among their own neighbors.

If anyone was waiting for President Trump to trip over his own tongue and damage our international relationships they probably came away disappointed. While he came on stronger than his predecessor by a wide margin and took a few chances, this speech probably opened the door to more cooperation against radical Islamic terror right in their own back yard. (Whether anyone actually wants to walk through that door in any significant way is another question, but at least he made the invitation.) The closer was pretty great also. “I ask you to join me, to join together, to work together. United we cannot fail.”

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