President Donald Trump, speaking in Riyadh, named Iran as a source of terrorism and destruction in the Middle East. At the same time, he politely but firmly demanded that the Sunni Arab establishment take responsibility for its role in the spread of jihadist ideology and jihadist terror.
Wahabi ideological purity backed by Saudi and Qatari oil money set the stage for the rise of Islamist warfare just as much as Iranian ideological purity plus oil money did.
There is no neat separation between Sunni terror and Shiite terror, between ISIS and Hezb’allah, between Iran and Hamas. Shiite Iran and Sunni Qatar – staunch enemies to one another – both fund Hamas. Sunni rivals Qatar and Saudi Arabia both fund radical Syrian rebel groups. The Kurdish war against ISIS runs into Turkey’s war against the Kurds, which supports Bashar Assad’s war against Syrian Sunnis, which is supported by Shiite Iran, which is an ideological and religious enemy of Sunni Turkey.
With admirable firmness, President Trump placed the burden of counter-jihad squarely on those who fomented it, nurtured it, paid for it, and in many cases venerated it:
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.
… Muslim nations must be willing to take on the burden, if we are going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion.
The first task in this joint effort is for your nations to deny all territory to the foot soldiers of evil. Every country in the region has an absolute duty to ensure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appeared to understand that the president was talking to the Sunni Arab world and that it is in trouble.
He denounced terrorism, including Sunni terror groups; agreed to work to curtail terror financing; and promoted economic advancement, including for women, as a means to stem radical inroads. He said the word “Israel” without venom or irony. None of these is a traditional Saudi position, so their official appearance reveals how much the king fears for the future of his country and the region – and how much the Sunni states want the U.S. to bail them out of a world they made but no longer control.
This brings us to Saffie Rose Russos, an 8-year-old girl who died in a suicide bombing along with 22 other young people at a pop concert in Manchester (U.K.). The bomber was 23-year-old Salman Abedi, known to British authorities prior to the attack. The bomb was filled with nails and screws – a Palestinian tactic first seen during the so-called “second intifada” and adopted widely by Sunni terrorists.
It wasn’t in “the region.” It wasn’t on Arab soil. King Salman couldn’t have stopped it if he wanted to. Jihadist terror is no longer controllable at the source – both Sunnis and Shiites have exported their murderous ideology to the rest of us.
Manchester was only the latest outrage. Terror attacks in Stockholm, London at Westminster, Paris at the Louvre, Normandy, five attacks in Germany in one week, Nice, Brussels, Paris – and New York, Boston, Orlando, and San Bernardino – have Sunni connections and left hundreds dead. The U.S. has had 60 Islamist plots since 9-11, according to the Heritage Foundation, 49 of which can be called “home-grown,” proving that Islamic radicalization can take place far from the countries of its origin, but not far from its intellectual wellspring.
Trump’s pitch for Sunni Arab allies was neither obsequious nor condescending:
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.
In other words, he said, we will protect ourselves, but without the “nation-building,” “regime change,” or “democracy promotion” that were the failed policies of prior administrations. But if long and costly military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have not turned the tide, what help will we provide to Sunni states that are at best ambivalent and at worst complicit?
The brutal murder of Saffie Rose Russo should be a trumpet blast, reminding us that the enemies of 2001 – as well as the enemy of 1979 – are still with us. They are the conjoined twins of Sunni and Shiite fundamentalism.