Donald Trump

Trump To Muslim World: Peace Only Possible "if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists"

The president's speech articulates non-interventionist principles despite fiery rhetoric.

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Nick Gillespie

President Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia was in many ways window-dressing to a new, $110-billion arms deal with one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. But his 30-minute talk, televised widely through the Arab and Muslim worlds, is an interesting statement that's worth spending serious time with. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he's singing a different tune now, saying he's not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don't export terrorists.

America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.

Beyond in the rejection of what he would call a globalist worldview, Trump seems to be signaling a return to a non-humanitarian dimension to U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds (that the Assad government had used prohibited chemical weapons on innocent civilians). More important, while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to "bomb the shit" out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a promise he has shown signs of keeping, even beyond Syria. It's worth pointing out, too, that even when the U.S. government has embraced or eschewed humanitarian motivations for foreign policy, it has never been constrained by such declarations. To pretend, for instance, that Bill Clinton's various interventions and actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than vulgar domestic politics requires a suspension of disbelief beyond that of the most-devoted fan of Starlight Express or Cop Rock.

Yet from a libertarian perspective at least, it's good to hear a president rhetorically lay out a foreign policy that is basically limited to defending American interests rather than saving the world (how many countries and innocent people must die to prove America is virtuous?). Same, too, with getting overly involved with the internal workings of foreign countries. America should always be a place of refuge for people fleeing tyranny and oppression, and our government can and should exert influence to liberalize and open-up repressive hellholes. But the past 15 years of U.S. interventions (and if we're being honest, most of our overseas adventuring before that) have clearly failed. Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson's campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries. We simply don't have the knowledge or resources to bully or beat the world into our shape. Military intervention, regime change, and all the rest should be last resorts and exceptionally rare.

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.

It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. 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.

For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.

Our friends will never question our support, and our enemies will never doubt our determination. Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption. We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes—not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms—not sudden intervention.

To my mind, this is pretty good stuff. Of course, it is only rhetoric and there's no reason to suspect or expect any convergence between Trump's language and actions. There is a larger question, too, of whether this sort of talk will be read by autocrats as a greenlight to crack down on all sorts of legitimate dissent in the name of quashing terrorism. Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, to name two U.S. allies, can't be celebrating this sort of language even as Trump rightly places responsibility for the Middle East in the hands of the people and rulers who live there. And even as Trump invokes realism and local responsibility, it remains far from clear he will do anything to remove U.S. forces from around the world. Not only might that reduce the targeting of the United States by various terrorist groups who see America as a puppet master, it would be the proper follow-through to a worldview that holds we are not the solution to all the problems in the world.

Despite the non-interventionist flourishes in his speech, there's a larger contradiction in all this, too: Trump's foreign-policy realism is predicated ultimately upon a version of Fortress America, one in which our borders are closed (or at least more-closed) to people and goods from abroad. That's hugely at odds with the spirit of libertarianism and classical liberalism, which simultaneously holds that the United States should be slow to intervene militarily abroad but that we should be wide open to people and goods from all over the world. That is how progress, peace, and prosperity flourish. Yet such an inclusive vision of trade, commerce, and pluralism is about the last thing one would associate with Trump or his supporters.

Read his whole speech here. Watch it on video here.

Related: "How Trump Will Reshape Foreign Policy." About two months ago, the Cato Institute's Trevor Thrall told Reason that "I think [Trump] kind of has a zero-sum view of the world. We're going to win, and we're going to beat people up hard to do it." About 10 minutes.

NEXT: Congress' power to "define and punish" violations of "the Law of Nations" does not give it authority over immigration [updated with a rejoinder to Rob Natelson's response]

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  1. The Saudi’s exportation of Wahabism is the problem! ISIS is a Sunni organization funded by Saudis. They want to exterminate the Shia and the US is their enabler.

    1. The Saudis don’t want to see another Grand Mosque seizure, so they give the Salafists a playground in Syria instead.

  2. Nick, whose block quote is that? Johnson or Trump?

  3. So, Trump is calling on the Saudi people to overthrow their government?

  4. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he’s singing a different tune now, saying he’s not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don’t export terrorists.

    How is this contradictory?

    1. Because anyone who thinks Islam is a violent religion is a racist imperialist
      /Reason’s general consensus on foreign policy

    2. If anything, it is the opposite of contradictory. It’s the same intent in more polite terms. Even the campaign talk was of limiting any potential threat from radicals here, not going there to root them out.

      I have to wonder how large the cheer leading would be if a President Paul has given that speech.

    3. It’s contradictory to declare a group is inherently violent (it’s in their nature and they can’t change) and then demand they change their violent behavior. To stop being inherently violent to you is still a change.

      Oh wait, that was logic. Uh, go Trump. Something something cosmo cucks etc. Build the wall.

  5. Now,if he would just tell Europe to take care of their own problems

  6. To my mind, this is pretty good rhetoric.

    I didn’t watch the speech but haven’t heard that he digressed into comments on how great he is, how rich he is, how smart he is, the size of his electoral victory or the size of his dick, so I’m assuming somebody else wrote the speech and Trump has no idea what he was going to say before he said it and still has no idea what he said now that he’s said it. It’s just words, they signify nothing and only a fool would try to glean any meaning from them.

    1. I’m assuming somebody else wrote the speech

      That would be Stephen Miller.

    2. OMG the president has someone else working on the wording of his speeches. Unprecedented! Impeachment material!

      1. Not to mention plagiarism, if the quote marks fall off the teleprompter.

  7. Trump is absolutely correct of course, but I suspect that he knows full well that it’s simply never going to happen, for the simple reason that most Muslims (and especially the Wahabbis) don’t really want true peace. In fact, they don’t even define “peace” the same way that we in the west do at all! And the Muslims that we in the west call terrorists and extremists, they call soldiers of Allah.

    Most of us in the west define peace as people of different nations, cultures, and backgrounds learning how to live together, negotiate through means other than violence, and tolerate each other at a basic level even if not necessarily loving each other. The Islamic world on the other hand defines peace as a state that is only reached when Muslims dominate the entire world and Islam is accepted as the one true predominant faith. Your only choice is to either convert to Islam, or to accept your status as a second class citizen subservient to Islam. Their religion literally requires them to wage war against everyone, everywhere in the world where Islam is not dominant! There’s a reason Muslims flags tend to have swords on them; that’s not just some weird accident.

    1. Now, needless to say, these people in Saudi Arabia running most of the Islamic world aren’t complete and total idiots. They’re smart enough to know that there’s zero chance of them taking on the west in a conventional war and winning that way. They would be crushed in no time, and they know it. If they actually thought that they COULD in fact defeat the west in a conventional war though, they would try to do so again without a moment’s hesitation whatsoever like they did in the past. Therefore, at this time this is the only way in which they can wage jihad against their enemies (like us), through infiltration, stealth, migration, and acts of what we call “terrorism”.

      1. It’s called Hijrah.

  8. Our friends will never question our support

    The American taxpayer is at your service.

  9. Even if they are “just words” it’s nice to hear an American president say them. The words are accurate – America cannot solve the problem; it can only be solved from the inside. However, this requires the Saudis and others to first recognize that there is a problem. It’s not clear that they do.

  10. Gary Johnson’s campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was mostly right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries.

    Gary Johnson promised to pursue interventionist “humanitarian” wars not in the US interest

    GayJay is a cuckotarian Samantha Power.

    1. You don’t have to stay in character anymore, you know. The election is over.

  11. The problem is they don’t want our trade (except weapons) or culture. They want jihad.

    If you look at what terrorists are, a lot of them are middle class and fairly well educated. Maybe not the rank and file ISIS member, but a lot of them are well off and have families.

  12. The proxy wars that are being fought in the Middle East are drawn along the same lines they were during the Cold War.

    USA generally affiliated with Turkey, a NATO ally, then backing Israel and Saudi Arabia vs. Russia backing Iran and Syria.

    If and when that dynamic comes to a halt, it will be because the President of the United States and the President of the Russian Confederation start working together–on issues like ISIS.

    . . . and yet the President passing intelligence to the Russians is somehow a scandal?

    Meanwhile, the people who are screaming the loudest about Trump backing the Saudis are the same people characterizing Trump’s attempts to work with Putin as somehow impossible to be anything but corrupt.

    1. Those who forget history – – – – –

      As I was taught, the Russians were (are again?) our allies. It was the evil Soviet Union that became our enemy.

      How are they different from Japan and Germany?
      Why is it that the progressives / liberals / democrats / whatever the “I want to control your life” group call themselves this week only want to demonize the country that came closest to their heart felt desires?

  13. I’d think it was great if Trump suddenly embraced a Ron Paul style foreign policy, but, short of that and since he’s not a libertarian, seeing Trump embrace the pragmatism of the Reagan/Bush Sr. era and reject the neoconservatism of the Bush Jr./Obama era is the next best thing.

    If you don’t want us to invade Syria like McCain and the neocons want to do, . ., .

    If you don’t want us to do our own bombing campaigns in Syria, . . .

    If you don’t want us to back vicious dictatorships like Saudi Arabia against Russia’s allies in Iran and Syria, . . .

    Then you want Trump to form a working relationship with Russia.

    Watching journalists torpedo the best strategy to minimize our engagement in proxy wars–in the name of peace and purity and hatred of Putin–is nauseating. If Trump working with Putin on ISIS is in the best interests of U.S. security and minimizes pain and suffering in the world from our proxy wars, then the mainstream press would still rather be anti-Trump than right.

    1. “I’d think it was great if Trump suddenly embraced a Ron Paul style foreign policy, but, short of that and since he’s not a libertarian, seeing Trump embrace the pragmatism of the Reagan/Bush Sr. era and reject the neoconservatism of the Bush Jr./Obama era is the next best thing.”

      Most libertarians are pragmatists. Very few import moral principles into their thinking, some actively dismiss them formulating a strange “principled pragmatism” that relies nevertheless on moral underpinnings they take for granted or think are somehow intrinsic. You’d really have to define which flavor of lib you’re talking about. Trump has more in common with many of them than they might like to think, starting with a utilitarian, suck-it-and-see approach to most things.

      I think it’s entirely possible he could champion the idea of an Arab NATO, and get it off the ground without the mistakes of European NATO. By that I mean, encourage the Arabs to police themselves. Let them kill each other.

      If the current situation is intolerable–and it is–there has to be a way to get out, and the only way short of walking away and crying havoc, is for the Arabs to act in their own interests. If they don’t, the situation could hardly be worse than it is now.

      1. We’re not talking about shades of gray. We’re talking about completely different principles.

        The Obama administration would refuse to work with Putin over his position on issues like gay marriage. Hillary Clinton amateurishly went after Putin in 2011–publicly questioning the legitimacy of the election he won. Like I said, coming from a Secretary of State, that’s either amateurish or principled neconservatism.

        Ever heard the old arguments between neocons like Condi and pragmatists like Scocroft?

        Pragmatism isn’t just a adjective. If and when it is in the best interests of FDR to coordinate war plans with Joseph Stalin in order to defeat the Nazis and chase the Japanese out of China, then that is what the president should do. That sort of thinking is a total reversal of what, first, Bush Jr. and then Obama did. No one follows any rules religiously, but . . .

        Those who see Trump trying to coordinate fighting against ISIS with Russia and can’t seem to understand it as anything but corruption are people who’ve come to see neoconservative idealism as the status quo. It is not the status quo! Refusing to pursue our own best interests if doing so requires us to make nice with vicious dictators is not how we won World War II, and it isn’t how we won the Cold War either.

        1. That sounds all well and good until you actually try to convert it into policy details.

          What is “our best interests”? 300 million people in this country and a lot of them have competing interests. What’s in the interest of the military industrial complex is often not in the best interest of taxpayers; what’s in the interest of Big Sugar is not in the best interest of sugar consumers; etc.

          Then there’s short term vs. long term interests. Many policies benefit one but not the other. e.g. arming the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan who pushed the Soviets out in the short term but birthed the modern jihadi movement in the long term.

          Even once you have a specific set of interests to achieve, the question remains, what actions promote those interests?

          Almost any set of policies can be defended or opposed in the name of “pragmatism”. It’s not a philosophy, it’s an excuse.

          1. Oh, yeah, you can argue about what’s in our best interest all the time. And what’s in our best interests today might not be in our best interests tomorrow. Details change, assumptions about the future change, etc. . . . life is a marginal analysis.

            Doesn’t mean that the primary consideration in foreign (and domestic) policy shouldn’t be what’s in our best interests. And pursuing our best interests doesn’t mean we’ll never make mistakes.

            Maybe working with Putin isn’t in our best interests–because cozying up with dictators is bad for our long term goals, etc. I’m willing to listen to that argument, but please make the argument in those terms. I’m not here to benefit the people of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Kurds, the Canadians, or gay people in Russia.

            We should respect people’s rights–regardless of whether it’s in our short terms interests to do so. But working with Putin isn’t about violating anybody’s rights.

          2. Don’t tell me that the American people shouldn’t enjoy free trade with China until they apologize for the Tienanmen Square massacre and withdraws from Tibet, but before China joined the WTO, we used to hear American politicians argue that all the time. Likewise, don’t tell me that the American people shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of working with Putin to defeat ISIS–because Putin is bad man.

            IF IF IF it’s in the best interests of American security and the American people to work with Putin, then that’s what President Trump should do–regardless of whether Putin is a bad, bad man. Why should America’s best interests be held hostage to the interests of third parties?

      2. Ron Paul’s policy would be more about disengagement, and while that’s not my favorite way of seeing the world, there are plenty here who subscribe to those theories.

        To those people, I was saying–just because you can’t get the Ron Paul flavor of foreign policy you want doesn’t mean that some aren’t better than others, even if none of them are exactly what you want.

        No, eating candy and getting shot in the mouth are not the same because they’re both bad for your teeth.

        If you don’t like helping Saudi Arabia fight proxy wars because that’s the same behavior that made us targets of Al Qaeda to begin with, then you should want to see Trump deal directly with Putin. Proxy wars end when the people who are backing them start working together instead of fighting through proxies.

  14. Ds: Never let a crisis go to waste!

    “Oklahoma crisis offers opportunity for hapless Democrats
    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) ? The Oklahoma state budget has been cut so deeply that two elementary schools in state Rep. Jason Dunnington’s district can no longer afford to pay for art teachers. A hospital is struggling after lawmakers axed a fund for uncompensated care.”

    But I’m sure the retirement programs got funded.

  15. Trump is meeting my low expectations. I can still see a plausible future where he exceeds my highest ones but first we need right wing paramilitaries for him to ignore the violent excesses of.

    1. SIV posted this above:

      “GayJay is a cuckotarian Samantha Power.”

      That should tell you all you need to know about SIV.

      1. That sounds like something BLOCK INSANE YOMOMMA would say.

  16. He, however crudely, seems to have the right instincts. Either his competing advisers or political pressures drag him astray.

    “Despite the non-interventionist flourishes in his speech, there’s a larger contradiction in all this, too: Trump’s foreign-policy realism is predicated ultimately upon a version of Fortress America, one in which our borders are closed (or at least more-closed) to people and goods from abroad. That’s hugely at odds with the spirit of libertarianism and classical liberalism…”

    That’s not a contradiction, he’s just not a classical-liberal/libertarian. Closing the borders *and* withdrawing the military from other nations is perfectly compatible (and sensible)

    1. Tak Kak|5.21.17 @ 10:30PM|#
      “He, however crudely, seems to have the right instincts. Either his competing advisers or political pressures drag him astray.”

      Or he is simply finding his way.
      I did note vote for him, find him a blowhard, but if he somehow ends up doing what we need, I’ll take it.

  17. I don’t know why Nick has to be so clueless about this. Trump’s policy is about what I expected from the campaign. It’s really very old fashioned diplomacy. Country’s don’t meddles in internal affairs, but join together on mutually advantageous policies, such as combating true criminal international actors.

    If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he’s singing a different tune now, saying he’s not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don’t export terrorists.

    Live how you want in your own countries, but we don’t want the crazier bits here, and will keep them out.

    The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds

    Nope. Non-proliferation of chemical weapons. Again, do your own crazy, but when it poses a general to the international order, and one we specifically feel, expect the hammer.

    while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to “bomb the shit” out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan

    Again, stomping actors that threaten international order.

    Trump’s foreign-policy realism is predicated ultimately upon a version of Fortress America

    Contradicted by actions in Syria that you point out. Pay attention.

    1. one in which our borders are closed (or at least more-closed) to people and goods from abroad. That’s hugely at odds with the spirit of libertarianism and classical liberalism

      Limited migration and limited trade was US policy for most of it’s existence. Really only changed when we became the global hegemon.

      As for the “spirit of classical liberalism”, that spirit included the Lockean Proviso.

      If Reason wants to preach classical liberalism, they should start by coming up with an answer as to how policies need to change now that the Lockean Proviso no longer holds.

      Reason, trying to claim the mantle of Liberty, but silent yet again where it contradicts their property fetishism.
      What part of “Free Market” says “corporate limited liability”? Why are we taxing income, instead of wealth?

  18. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. 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.

    Trump Vult!

  19. Where in the name of Jar-Jar’s cousin Gunga Din do Trump’s Vulturies place their God-Emperor in the St Moritz/ Othello / Lion of the Panshir continuum ?

  20. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

  21. “Trump’s foreign-policy realism is predicated ultimately upon a version of Fortress America, one in which our borders are closed (or at least more-closed) to people and goods from abroad.”

    This is BS. A sovereign country cannot survive without some sort of minimal border control, particularly in a world of assymetric warfare and terrorism. At no point in his campaign and presidency to date has Trump advocated for a sealing off of the borders or prevention of lawful immigration. The only thing he has promoted….which a large number of citizens and immigrants support…are rational controls on immigration. The wall, the ‘ban’ (which isn’t a ban) were first steps to develop an ability to control immigration, not prevent it.

    Prior administrations have perpetuated an openly racist immigration policy, ignoring millions of illegal Hispanic immigrants creating a vast second-class populace with none of the rights of citizenship. These people were encouraged to cross the border, establish lives, and work menial jobs with a wink and a nod to amnesty, but ultimately spit upon and left in limbo. The prior administrations did this for base political reasons, thumbing their nose at legal immigrants and building political power on the backs of poor Hispanic immigrants Fuck Obama. He was a racist POS.

  22. “Peace Only Possible ‘if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists'”

    *And not selling billions of arms to Saudi Arabia, who has a “stellar” record of supporting terrorism.

  23. Peace Only Possible If Humans Stop Being Humans; Empty Threats And Emptier Promises Still Popular

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