The American Interest

Wahhabism First

President Donald Trump started his first foreign tour on May 20 in Saudi Arabia.  His two-day visit was punctuated by a series of embarrassingly poltroonish statements and gestures to his hosts.  It culminated in a macabre sabre-rattling spectacle, the moral equivalent of tossing Zyklon B canisters into a Silesian compound in 1944.  For his part, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that the battle against “extremism” has “nothing to do with religion.”

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s paean to the RAF Fighter Command, never in the history of U.S. foreign policy have so few disappointed so many so quickly.  Had President Trump merely fine-tuned some of Candidate Trump’s stated positions, the adjustment likely would have been unsurprising and prudent.  What we have seen instead, in the first four months of this presidency, is a comprehensive reversal of his stated positions on many specific issues (Russia, NATO, the E.U., Syria, etc.) and a retreat on the key question of America’s grand strategy.

“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,” Candidate Trump wrote a year ago.  He accurately described the Saudis as “mouth pieces, bullies, cowards” who were “paying ISIS” and who imagined that they could “control...

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