President Donald Trump signaled to the nations of the Middle East and Muslim world that he strongly backs radical Sunni Islam, mostly embodied by Saudi Arabia’s brand of Wahhabism, over the emerging moderate Shi’ism on display in Iran. Trump’s first visit to another country as president was Saudi Arabia. Trump was also the only president to make Saudi Arabia his first stop after taking office. The decision to honor Saudi Arabia with such U.S. presidential protocol was a calculated one.
Trump’s first official act after he landed in Riyadh was to ink a $300 billion arms package with Saudi Arabia. The United States agreed to supply the Saudis with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system, maritime littoral combat ships for close-in shore combat, and so-called «precision-guided munitions» responsible for so many civilian «collateral damage» deaths in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan.
Considering the Wahhabist kingdom’s past and current support for the very same radical jihadists who are committing acts of terrorism in Syria, Yemen, and other nations, it is hypocritical that Trump claimed the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are «jointly» battling against terrorism. It was as if, in the leadup to World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt traveled to Berlin to meet with Adolf Hitler and FDR proclaimed from the Reich Chancellery that he and Nazi Germany were jointly fighting against anti-Semitism.
Ironically, as Trump was praising Saudi Arabia’s «efforts» against jihadist terrorism, Iran overwhelmingly re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani ran on a platform of bestowing more freedoms on the Iranian people and opening the country to the rest of the world. A day after Trump’s anti-Iran speech in Riyadh, reformists won all 21 seats in Tehran’s municipal election. Across the board, Iranians, particularly women and minority religious groups, enjoy many more rights than do the Saudi Arabs. Whereas in Iran, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians can worship openly and even enjoy representation in parliament, across the Persian Gulf, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists are banned from constructing churches or temples and displaying religious symbols. Donald Trump’s ignorance of Middle Eastern religions is a severe and dangerous handicap for an American president.
While the Saudi princelings are free to get drunk, use drugs, and heinously abuse women behind their palace walls, standing immune to the whims of the mutawa religious police, the rank and file of Saudi Arabia live in a country governed by centuries-old laws embracing misogyny, public beheadings, and religious persecution. While women are banned from driving vehicles and movie theaters are prohibited in Saudi Arabia, across the Persian Gulf in Iran, women drive freely and Iran has a vibrant movie industry and numerous theaters as attested to by that nation’s winning of several international film awards, including Hollywood’s Oscar.
Trump waxed on about moderate Islam in the capital city of the country that gave birth to Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia has nurtured with its financing, propaganda, government-subsidized clerics, and other support jihadist groups from Morocco to Indonesia and Fiji to Trinidad. Trump had the gall and audacity to accuse Iran of funding terrorists and promoting a «craven ideology,» i.e., Shi’ism.
Trump’s speech was largely written by Stephen Miller, a right-wing strongly pro-Israel creature of Santa Monica, California and an acolyte of the Islamophobe extremist David Horowitz. Trump’s speech in Riyadh did nothing to bridge the differences between Islam and his administration and everything to do with laying down a gauntlet to not only Shi’ism but the Alawite, Zaidi, Sufi, Alevi, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Ismaili sects of Islam. Trump even managed to slip the phrase «Islamic extremism» into his speech rather than the less offensive «Islamist extremism». Even though a committed Islamophobe, Miller, wrote the speech, Trump’s spokespeople in Saudi Arabia insisted that the president was merely «exhausted» from his trip and that is why he said «Islamic extremism».
Trump called for the end of the Iranian and Syrian «regimes» and the international isolation of both. Trump’s speech, if it had not been written by Miller, could have easily been written by any Saudi or Israeli government propagandist.
Trump’s previous meeting in the White House with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave American sanction to the Ankara government’s war against secular Islam as envisaged by Kemal Ataturk. In a massive psychological warfare operation, Trump, who proclaimed his hostility to «radical Islamist terrorism» prior to his trip to Saudi Arabia and embrace of Erdogan, has, instead, embraced it.
Trump told his Saudi hosts and the Wahhabi potentates from Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait who gathered in Riyadh that «the path to peace begins right here». Riyadh was also the path crossed by many of the terrorists who have attacked the United States and other nations, including on September 11, 2001. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose nation was called a «promoter of terrorism» by Trump in Riyadh, issued a call for Trump to discuss with his Saudi friends ways to avoid them sponsoring another September 11th-like attack.
Trump’s rhetoric against Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian government, the Yemeni Houthis, Hamas, and, given Trump’s strong support for the Bahraini Wahhabist regime, the majority Shi’as of Bahrain, could be taken as a call to arms for continued Saudi, Bahraini, Yemeni, Libyan, Syrian, Iraqi, Emirati, Qatari, Kuwaiti, Pakistani, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Sudanese repression of non-Sunnis within their countries. Trump signaled his support for continued Bahraini repression of its Shi’as by stating that the United States and Bahrain «have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won't be strain with this administration».
Trump, in language befitting a religious fanatic, lumped together Shi’a Iran and Lebanese Shi’a members of Hezbollah with radical Sunni Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and exhorted the Arab and Muslim leaders gathered in Riyadh to «Drive them out! Drive them out 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».
In a display of sheer hypocrisy, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged $100 million to Trump’s daughter’s «Women Entrepreneurs Fund». During the presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump tweeted biting criticism of the Clinton Fund, which received from Saudi Arabia and the UAE only about 25 percent of that received by the Ivanka Fund. Trump wrote, «Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all the money from such countries!» For Trump. It was only an outrage when the Clintons accepted donations from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Yet, when Ivanka Trump received three times as much money from the same countries, Trump was effusive in his praise of them. If Ivanka Trump wanted to help women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia, she could have told old King Salman to let them drive cars first.
Trump actually referred to Iran as a «terrorist safe harbor». Trump and his speech writer Miller completely ignored the fact that it was Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati funding, military, and other support that permitted the creation of Islamic State and other jihadist «safe harbors» in Raqqa, Syria; Mosul, Iraq; Derna, Libya; and Mukalla, South Yemen. While standing before Saudi, Turkish, and Qatari officials, Trump called Syrian President Bashar al Assad a «war criminal,» ignoring the fact that the Saudis, Turks, Qataris, and their client jihadist groups committed countless war crimes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.
At the end of his speech, Trump slipped and called King Salman «King Solomon». Trump, whose command of Biblical history is wanting, may want to know that King Solomon was known for wisdom and fairness. There was nothing wise or fair in Trump’s speech in Riyadh.