Blogs: Paul Pillar

Trump Is No Realist

Costs of the Clenched Fist

Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime

Paul Pillar

The speech conveyed a very crude and simplistic explanation of terrorism and political violence in the Middle East.  As Trump describes it, terrorism is all just a matter of good versus evil.  And his exhortation to his audience of rulers was: “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists.  Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”  There was barely any hint of awareness about political, economic, and social conditions that have much to do with how much terrorism there will be in the years ahead and how many drivable terrorists there will be in the first place.  But it is in affecting those conditions that regimes such as the Saudi regime could do the most good.  They don’t need exhortations about “driving out”.  The Saudis used to have a policy of driving extremists out of the kingdom, which was just a way of sloughing the problem off on someone else and did nothing to solve the problem.

The speech’s approach to interstate relations was similarly crude and similarly unlikely to shape behavior in a favorable direction.  The Saudis and other Gulf Arab regimes don’t need any encouragement to be staunchly anti-Iran.  What is needed, in the interests of regional peace and security and thus in U.S. interests, is greater effort at reconciling competing interests in nonviolent ways.  If we or they do not like something Iran is doing and that we regard as irregular and illegitimate, then it behooves us and our partners, as well as the Iranians, to promote peaceful, legitimate diplomacy as a means of reconciliation—rather than exhortations that promote more hostility and isolation.

Trump got through his speech without adding to self-inflicted damage of the sort that awaits him back in Washington.  But the speech does more to divide than to unite, and it does more to stoke conflict in the Middle East than to reduce it.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor at the National Interest and the author of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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Trump's Trip and Taking Sides in the Middle East

Paul Pillar

The speech conveyed a very crude and simplistic explanation of terrorism and political violence in the Middle East.  As Trump describes it, terrorism is all just a matter of good versus evil.  And his exhortation to his audience of rulers was: “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists.  Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”  There was barely any hint of awareness about political, economic, and social conditions that have much to do with how much terrorism there will be in the years ahead and how many drivable terrorists there will be in the first place.  But it is in affecting those conditions that regimes such as the Saudi regime could do the most good.  They don’t need exhortations about “driving out”.  The Saudis used to have a policy of driving extremists out of the kingdom, which was just a way of sloughing the problem off on someone else and did nothing to solve the problem.

The speech’s approach to interstate relations was similarly crude and similarly unlikely to shape behavior in a favorable direction.  The Saudis and other Gulf Arab regimes don’t need any encouragement to be staunchly anti-Iran.  What is needed, in the interests of regional peace and security and thus in U.S. interests, is greater effort at reconciling competing interests in nonviolent ways.  If we or they do not like something Iran is doing and that we regard as irregular and illegitimate, then it behooves us and our partners, as well as the Iranians, to promote peaceful, legitimate diplomacy as a means of reconciliation—rather than exhortations that promote more hostility and isolation.

Trump got through his speech without adding to self-inflicted damage of the sort that awaits him back in Washington.  But the speech does more to divide than to unite, and it does more to stoke conflict in the Middle East than to reduce it.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor at the National Interest and the author of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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Trump's Classified Toys

Paul Pillar

The speech conveyed a very crude and simplistic explanation of terrorism and political violence in the Middle East.  As Trump describes it, terrorism is all just a matter of good versus evil.  And his exhortation to his audience of rulers was: “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists.  Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”  There was barely any hint of awareness about political, economic, and social conditions that have much to do with how much terrorism there will be in the years ahead and how many drivable terrorists there will be in the first place.  But it is in affecting those conditions that regimes such as the Saudi regime could do the most good.  They don’t need exhortations about “driving out”.  The Saudis used to have a policy of driving extremists out of the kingdom, which was just a way of sloughing the problem off on someone else and did nothing to solve the problem.

The speech’s approach to interstate relations was similarly crude and similarly unlikely to shape behavior in a favorable direction.  The Saudis and other Gulf Arab regimes don’t need any encouragement to be staunchly anti-Iran.  What is needed, in the interests of regional peace and security and thus in U.S. interests, is greater effort at reconciling competing interests in nonviolent ways.  If we or they do not like something Iran is doing and that we regard as irregular and illegitimate, then it behooves us and our partners, as well as the Iranians, to promote peaceful, legitimate diplomacy as a means of reconciliation—rather than exhortations that promote more hostility and isolation.

Trump got through his speech without adding to self-inflicted damage of the sort that awaits him back in Washington.  But the speech does more to divide than to unite, and it does more to stoke conflict in the Middle East than to reduce it.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor at the National Interest and the author of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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