It was crude stuff. Donald Trump called on 55 Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh to drive out terrorism from their countries. He identified Iran as a despotic state and came near to calling for regime change, though Iran held a presidential election generally regarded as fair only two days previously.
The impact of US presidential visits and speeches abroad are generally over-rated and turn out to have far less influence than was claimed at the time.
Almost all of the 55 Muslim rulers and leaders in the vast hall in Riyadh will have breathed a little easier on hearing Trump’s repeated call "to drive out terrorism”, since they have always described anybody who opposes their authority as "terrorists”.
This will be a green-light to people like Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to go on imprisoning and torturing Muslim Brotherhood members. American pressure on the ruling Sunni minority in Bahrain to stop persecuting the Shia majority was always tame, but Trump’s praise for the island’s rulers may make the situation even worse.
Trump’s failure to refer to human rights’ abuses was criticized by some observers, but more serious than his words was his presence in Riyadh before an audience of autocrats.
Saudi leaders will be pleased by Trump’s condemnation of Iran as the "fountainhead of terrorism". This was the most substantive part of speech and is the one most likely to increase conflict.
The Saudis will see it as a licence to increase their support for proxy wars being waged against Shia movements and communities in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond.
An escalation in the war in Yemen by the Saudi backed forces could close the port of Hodeida on the Red Sea coast through which is imported much of the food reaching the 17 million Yemenis on the verge of famine.
In the last years of Obama, US public opinion was increasingly focused on Saudi Arabia as the country most to blame for 9/11 because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis as was Osama bin Laden and, according to a CIA report, the private financing for the operation. Senior US officials have repeatedly pointed to financing from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf as essential to the rise of Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) and al-Qaeda type organisations in Iraq and Syria.
Trump himself blamed Saudi Arabia for 9/11 during the presidential election campaign, but this was all forgotten when he spoke in Riyadh.
Source: The Independent