Trump Speech Encourages Muslim Leaders To Challenge Extremism

May 22, 2017
Originally published on May 22, 2017 7:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump has landed in Israel this morning. This is stopped two on his first overseas trip as president. The first stop was Saudi Arabia. And let's talk about his speech there because during the campaign, let's remember, the president railed against what he called radical Islamic terrorism.

He vilified President Obama and Hillary Clinton as being politically correct for using the phrase violent extremism. Trump famously said, I think Islam hates us. It seemed like a different message yesterday. NPR's Scott Detrow is here to talk about it. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: All right. So Trump had said it was so important to use the phrase radical Islamic terrorism during the campaign. He did not use that term yesterday. What do you make of this?

DETROW: That's right. I think for one speech at least, and we should contain it to one speech at least because we'll see what happens after this, Trump's tone on this changed. Recall, for so much of the campaign, Trump said that when it comes to terrorism, Islam as a whole is part of the problem. Recall, one of his signature policy proposals to deal with terrorism was to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Take a listen to this, though.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people all in the name of religion. People that want to protect life and want to protect their religion, this is a battle between good and evil.

DETROW: You know, we kind of saw this with China, too. Trump railed on the country throughout the campaign, but he seemed happy to sit down and try and work with China's president on North Korea in particular when they did meet face to face.

GREENE: So watching some evolution in some different aspects here. Well, one big change from previous administrations, Scott, the word freedom did not come up once in the speech from Donald Trump. Trump told Muslim leaders we are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live. So how does he see the relationship between the United States and its allies here?

DETROW: You know, I think that was striking and pretty consistent for this administration. We've seen over and over again that the broad promotion of human rights and democracy will often take a backseat to more short-term pragmatic strategic goals. With a couple of leaders in particular, the heads of Egypt and Turkey, President Trump has made it clear he's happy to overlook authoritarian crackdowns and work with them to confront ISIS in particular.

GREENE: This is an ambitious trip. I mean, he has chosen some difficult areas of the world to go on on his first trip as president. We also can't forget that the president has faced troubles at home. I mean, last week was an insane week of news.

Senator John McCain, a Republican, was asked yesterday about Trump's comments to the Russian foreign minister, where the president told the diplomat that he fired FBI Director James Comey, reportedly Trump saying because Comey was a, quote, "nut job." And responding to that, here is McCain on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm almost speechless because I don't know how - why someone would say something like that. But I know this - Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murderer, and he had no business in the Oval Office.

GREENE: OK. McCain talking there about Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. So, Scott, how much can President Trump help himself with a successful foreign tour that might distract from some of this?

DETROW: Yeah, I mean, it can't do anything to stop this Russia investigation or this endless barrage of leaks and news scoops coming from all different outlets, but with Republicans in particular, there's a growing concern that this White House is just too chaotic. Senator Bob Corker said it was in a downward spiral last week, and that was even before all the Comey news happened.

So staying on script, both in speeches and all these ceremonies, not making any unplanned headlines, I think that could go a long way toward reassuring Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill, but that's tricky to do. I mean, the first three stops of the trip are regions where the political divides are millennia-old.

GREENE: So remind us what exactly awaits the president when he gets back here.

DETROW: Well, whatever news happens to happen this week, I guess we have to say after last week. But the Russia investigation is happening behind closed doors more with Bob Mueller taking over. But there are several congressional hearings that remain under way, and there are going to be some public hearings on the horizon.

We learned late Friday that former FBI Director Jim Comey will testify soon. Here's Florida Senator Marco Rubio on CNN talking about what he wants to ask Comey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: Did he keep these memos? What did those memos say, and why did he write it? And how did he feel? Did he ever feel like he was being put in a position where he couldn't do his job? There's no doubt that that's the questions that are going to get asked.

DETROW: And when those questions get asked, the answers could be very uncomfortable for the White House.

GREENE: OK. Lots of news following that foreign trip and then following what might await President Trump when he arrives home. That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks as always.

DETROW: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.