President Donald Trump has reset U.S. policy in the Middle East on his first trip abroad since taking office. Beginning his trip with a stop in Saudi Arabia, he made clear, in words and deeds, his intention to reverse Barack Obama’s disastrous appeasement of Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, and restore closer relations with America’s traditional allies in the Sunni Arab world. In a major speech he delivered on Sunday to Muslim Arab leaders assembled for an “Arab Islamic American” summit meeting in Riyadh, President Trump emphasized areas of common interest driven by “common sense,” “principled realism,” and “experience.” He backed up his words with the announcement of major new agreements with Saudi Arabia. The deals included an arms sale agreement, worth about $110 billion immediately, that would beef up Saudi Arabia’s defenses and create American jobs as a consequence of Saudi purchases from U.S. companies. Over ten years the deal will be worth about $350 billion. That’s a win-win for the United States and Saudi Arabia, and a lose-lose for Iran and Russia.
First and foremost amongst the areas of mutual interest with the countries represented at the summit that President Trump emphasized was the fight against terrorism. He described it as “a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.” He cast the battle in existential terms as one “between Good and Evil.” He called upon the countries in the Middle East region most affected by the terrorist scourge to “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.”
Unlike Obama, President Trump did not shrink away from referring explicitly to “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.” And, in addition to ISIS, he called out the Iranian regime as a terrorist threat.
Iran, the president correctly noted, is the one state in the region that has consistently sponsored and exported terrorism with funds, arms and training. President Trump pointed to the common threat that Iran posed to the Muslim Arab nations represented at the summit, the United States and Israel. Iran, he said, “speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.” Until Iran was ready to be a true partner in peace, he added, “all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran.”
Defeating terrorism and thwarting Iran’s hegemonic ambitions require sophisticated arms. Thus, President Trump announced an immediate $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase for which, the president added, “we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies.” This was to be part of historic agreements signed with the Saudi Kingdom “that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.”
The White House added in a statement: “This package of defense equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats, while also bolstering the Kingdom’s ability to contribute to counter terrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the U.S. military to conduct those operations.“
President Trump’s foreign policy appears to be focused on working together with nations with whom the United States shares strategic goals and interests, not necessarily those only sharing the same value system as the United States. “We must seek partners, not perfection—and to make allies of all who share our goals,” he said. President Trump promised there would be no “sudden intervention” – code words for regime change.
Barack Obama had a habit of conditioning relations with countries on the strength of their human rights records, often working at cross-purposes with U.S. strategic interests. The one exception Obama made was his appeasement of the Iranian regime in order to secure his disastrous nuclear deal. While supporting the Arab Spring and regime change in Egypt, Libya and Syria, Obama looked the other way as millions of Iranians were brutally repressed during the 2009 Green Revolution.
Choosing between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the one hand, versus Iran on the other, is not a choice between abusers and respecters of human rights. They all have atrocious human rights records, Iran’s mockery of a presidential election notwithstanding. The difference is that the Iranian regime at its highest levels believes in “death to America.” Its Revolutionary Guard and terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah have American blood on their hands. And they are seeking nuclear weapons, in collaboration with North Korea. Strengthening Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities will help to thwart Iran’s expansionism, and to fight ISIS and al Qaeda.
There is another U.S. adversary, besides Iran, that will not be pleased with the U.S.-Saudi arms deal. Particularly after Obama’s tilt towards Iran, the Saudis were becoming more interested in hedging their bets by looking to Russia for arms. Last month, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin stated, in the course of his meeting in Moscow with Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Saudi Arabia Lieutenant General Hamid al-Ruweili, that “Saudi Arabia wants to buy modern Russian armament.”
Not only would such weapons purchases fill Russia’s coffers with much needed revenue. They would give Russia another entry point into the Middle East, in addition to Syria. The Trump administration is saying not so fast. It is sure to remind the Saudis, as if they needed any reminding, that Russia has propped up the Assad regime in Syria, which the Saudi government opposes, and is an ally of Saudi Arabia’s nemesis Iran. The Trump administration’s arms deal is a further sweetener to keep Saudi Arabia away from Russia’s pantry.
As Roger L. Simon, a PJ Media columnist observed, “Selling three hundred and fifty billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia is not _just_ aimed at the obvious target – Iran. It is also aimed at Iran’s big brother Russia. And there is no way that relatively impoverished oligarchy can possibly keep up, not in the long run anyway. They don’t have the rubles.” (Emphasis in the original)
At last, there are grownups in charge of America’s foreign policy who are clear-eyed in their understanding of the United States’ strategic interests and who know how to deal for the benefit of the United States and its allies, at least as compared to the previous administration.
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