Trump speech ‘navigates him out of minefield’


It wasn’t barnstorming. It wasn’t political poetry and it was delivered with unrecognisable deliberation.

But Donald Trump navigated himself out of a minefield of his own making, getting to a destination that his mainly Sunni Muslim audience of leaders could applaud.

So far outside his comfort zone the US President clung to his script, a map through the sensitive landscape of Middle Eastern sensibilities where extravagant hospitality can be quickly matched with an explosive propensity to take offence.

But he did it.

Addressing some 50 leaders from the Islamic world he shook off the mantle of Islamophobia that had delighted some of his supporters during the presidential campaign.

He stayed just as black and white as he had been when he stated that “Islam hates us”. But now his audience had a choice between good and evil.

He said: “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilisations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”

How this statement will go down back home among some of the hardcore of his supporters remains to be seen. But in Saudi Arabia this was a message that was sponged up.

Young lions in leadership roles in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have begun to take on a more pro-active role for their countries.

Joining military coalitions in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere they would, 20 years ago, have only reluctantly joined.

So he was preaching to the converted when he said: “Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land…

“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.”

Fine. This audience could understand the need to fight terror. More than 90% of the victims of Islamic terror attacks are Muslim.

And given that the days of being lectured on human rights and political reform appeared to be over, the emirs, kings and assorted autocrats are likely to re-double their efforts to fight extremists.

But not, most likely, to focus on removing the huge inequalities that help drive the hopeless into the hands of those who manipulate and pervert religion into violent action.

Mr Trump didn’t mention spreading petrodollars although he had been delighted by a $110bn (£84.4bn) arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Instead the focus became the Shia-dominated theocracy of Iran. It’s signed up to a deal to end its nuclear weapons programme in return for an end to sanctions.

Mr Trump said: “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fuelled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”

But he offered no clues as to what he might do. Not about Iran.

This was a speech in which everyone agreed on what evil probably was, in their eyes and that they were all good, in their own eyes.

But no real signals of a change of direction from what they were already doing.