The Daily Shot, Ricochet, May 22, 2017
Donald Trump is in the midst of his first trip overseas as President. Interestingly, the first nation he chose to visit was Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, he gave a major address to a gathering of leaders from 55 Muslim-majority countries at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh. (You can watch it for yourself here or read the transcript here.)
As speeches go, this was the kind where Trump came off as well prepared and rehearsed. The extemporaneous remarks were kept to a minimum and the word choices and delivery were deliberate. (And if you know the guy’s speaking style, you’d think they gave him a couple of Valium ahead of time.)
So what did he say? We’ll let the President say it for himself, as he summarized the speech nicely near the end. “This fertile region has all the ingredients for extraordinary success – a rich history and culture, a young and vibrant people, a thriving spirit of enterprise. But you can only unlock this future if the citizens of the Middle East are freed from extremism, terror, and violence.”
Basically he told the gathering that it was up to them to deal with Islamic terrorism and extremism, much of which he made a point to blame on Iran. That was it. Fix terrorism and Iran is terrible. Needless to say, it was well received.
Big Speeches Weren’t the Only Thing
Sunday’s address was preceded by some big stuff on Saturday. The US and Saudi Arabia signed a massive arms deal. It’ll mean $110 billion for the US up front with hundreds of billion more in the next few years. (For comparison, President Obama sold only $115 billion during his eight years in office. He put some deals on ice because of Saudi bombing of civilians in Yemen.) President Trump wasted no time mentioning the number of jobs this would create.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows about Saudi military spending. They regularly rank as spending the fourth most in the world. (The ranking is: US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia.) If you measure it per capita, they’re number one, by a lot. The Saudi government spends 10 percent of their GDP on the military; they’re already armed to the teeth. Now, moreso.
The arms deal wasn’t the only agreement on Saturday. Blackstone (the private-equity giant, not the audiobook publisher) announced a $40 billion infrastructure fund. Also, several other commercial and civil agreements were signed.
Where Else Is He Going?
Saudi Arabia was just the first stop on Trump’s tour.
Today the President will be traveling to Israel where he’ll meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tuesday he’ll meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, Trump travels to Rome to meet with Pope Francis and later Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Then to Belgium, where he will meet with King Philippe and PM Charles Michel.
Thursday is the NATO summit in Brussels, and he’ll also meet with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Then on Friday, Trump will travel to Sicily for the G7 meeting. (Just imagine the frequent flier miles…)
Meanwhile, in Iran…
On Friday, voters in Iran went to the polls to choose a president. Incumbent Hassan Rouhani was easily reelected. It was a big victory, too: Rouhani crushed his rival 57 percent to 39 percent. This election also had a record turnout, with 73.5 percent of eligible voters, some 41 million people voting.
Okay, so what does this landslide mean? Well, Rouhani’s now slain opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, was a hardline cleric. He wanted to fight poverty with monthly cash payments to the poor (although he had no way to pay for it). Rouhani, by contrast, is responsible for the nuclear deal with the US and all the economic benefits it brought the country.
Raisi also had a hand in the Death Committee, which executed some 4,000 political prisoners back in the late 1980s. That Raisi was put forth as a candidate says something about the hardliners in Iran.
It’s worth noting that more than 60 percent of the Iranian population is under 30 years old. They weren’t around when the American embassy was stormed. They’re a generation raised in big cities, on the Internet, and on satellite television. Rouhani’s victory can be seen as a rejection of the hardliners and a reflection of the liberal values of the younger generation.