Trump's Riyadh rendezvous
Although there's no reason to take Donald Trump's erratic behaviour, and his ambivalent and unsavoury assertions seriously, we can't ignore what he staged in Riyadh in the name of defeating Islamist terrorism on May 21. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Trump's so-called Islamic-Arab-American Summit was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". The so-called summit was aimed at forming an anti-Iran coalition in the name of peace. Trump and his Saudi host in particular, singled out Iran as the sole sponsor of Islamist terrorism. Nothing could be more contrary to facts. All the ingredients of destabilising the Middle East were present in the rhetoric Trump and his surrogates used in Riyadh last Sunday.
Heads of state/government from forty-odd Sunni Muslim-majority countries – autocracies, "authoritarian" and "illiberal democracies" – from Indonesia to Bangladesh, and Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, reluctantly or enthusiastically attended the Riyadh gathering. The positive things emerging out of the summit are: a) Many of Trump's supporters in America might have learnt from his summit speech that Muslims are not that bad after all, and most victims of terrorism are Muslims; b) Trump, for the first time, used the politically correct expression, "Islamist terrorism" instead of "Islamic terrorism", which he had persistently used till the other day, defying all logic and criticism; c) Jordan's King Abdullah's stand on the Palestine problem was exceptionally brilliant. He spelled out in unambiguous terms, "No injustice has spread more bitter fruits than the absence of a Palestinian state. This is the core issue for our region, and it has driven radicalism and instability beyond our region and into the Muslim world."; d) Last but not least, one may agree with Trump that Muslims must fight their own war against terrorism without expecting any direct involvement by the US.
The summit signalled that some world leaders are more interested in making the world a more dangerous place than before by creating more problems, without resolving the existing ones. Those who think Trump has really transformed himself into a statesman from a demagogue are delusional. There's no reason to assume one who last year asserted "Islam hates us", and soon after becoming the president wanted to impose a complete ban on Muslim visit and immigration to the US, has all of a sudden become pragmatic enough to assert Islamist terrorism doesn't indicate there's a battle between faiths.
The summit may be seen as a reflection of Trump's attempts to divert Americans' attention from the ongoing investigation into his alleged "Russian connections", and his opponents' demands for further investigation after Trump had abruptly dismissed the not-so-compliant FBI Director James Comey from his position. One has reasons to believe, projecting Iran as the mastermind of global terrorism by Trump and his surrogates is integral to the game he and his associates are playing to divert Americans' attention from the brewing "Russia Gate", which could turn very serious for the president à la Watergate. Presenting Iran as the new bogeyman also brings rich dividends to the president from the powerful Israeli lobby in America, which also wants to single out Iran as the biggest security threat to the Jewish State. The so-called Arab-Islamic-American alliance aims at destabilising Iran by overthrowing the Islamic regime to comfort Israel and Saudi Arabia and most Sunni monarchies in the Gulf that consider Iran as an existential threat.
The concept of the "Muslim NATO"– as contemplated by some people – has gained wide currency after the summit. As the summit is aimed at neutralising the adverse effects of the "Russia Gate" by salvaging the sinking popularity of the president, it's also about appeasing the overpowering Israeli/Zionist and military-industrial lobbies in the US. While the former influences and partially controls American administration, economy, media, think tanks, higher education and research centres, the latter profits from armed conflicts across the world. It often drags America into long-drawn out expensive wars in different parts of the world, mainly by selling weapons to the US and its allies. While President Eisenhower spelled out the evil influence of the military-industrial complex on US administration in his valedictory speech on January 17, 1961, US General (retd.) Wesley Clark spilled the beans in the wake of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As Eisenhower and Clark have revealed, all US-led wars after World War II, invasions of countries, and demonising regimes right and left have only two purposes: a) establishing American hegemony on weaker states; and b) making as much profit as possible by selling arms and expertise to various countries and insurgent groups throughout the world. The recent signing of the USD 350 billion US arms deal with Saudi Arabia (the largest arms deal in history) in Riyadh may be mentioned in this regard.
What's most shocking is Saudi Arabia excluded Shiite-majority Iran, and a couple of "undesirable" Muslim-majority countries from the summit. Paradoxically, they had no problem inviting countries like, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, and Pakistan to resolve the problem of Islamist terrorism. And we know the track record of some of these countries vis-à-vis direct promotion of terrorism across the world.
It's noteworthy that 15 of the19 terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001 were Saudi citizens. We also know about the role of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan with regard to the promotion of terrorism to bleed their immediate neighbours. Thus, singling out Iran as the main sponsor of terrorism isn't only shocking, but also counterproductive to any effective move toward counterterrorism. Then again, we know the Riyadh Summit wasn't about countering terrorism, at all.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). E-mail: [email protected]