This could have gone a lot worse. The speech Donald Trump gave on Islam and terror in Riyadh on Sunday was surprisingly intelligent.
According to his prepared remarks, the president rejected the clash-of-civilizations paradigm some of his fanatical underlings, like Steve Bannon, have promoted.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump told an assembly of Muslim leaders.
This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.
That is quite right — and a reversal from Trump’s previous rhetoric.
Like many Republicans, Trump inflated the Islamic terror threat, making it sound as if America’s survival depended on its defeat. The reality is that it is closer to crime. Terrorist attacks are horrible, but they seldom kill many Westerners.
Not America’s problem to solve
Trump — wisely — emphasized that the United States cannot solve the problem of Muslim radicalization:
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.
This is a choice, he added, “America cannot make for you.”
Another break from his previous statements and the beliefs of his advisors. As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly took the Democrat Barack Obama to task for refusing to involve the United States in exactly this struggle.
Obama recognized that only Muslim governments can address the myriad challenges that breed radicalization and violence. Now so, it seems, does Trump.