Trump’s speech turned on three main themes. The beginning of the speech focused on extremism and terrorism as a threat to all. “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump said, pointedly turning away from his past assessments of Islam as a religion of hatred. Trump’s shift in tone is widely seen as an attempt at to reset relations with the Muslim World.The second point, in keeping with his “America First” platform, is the imperative on Middle Eastern nations to take the lead in stamping out this threat. President Trump raised his voice as he delivered the emotional climax of the speech: “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and 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.”
We are seeing hints of the American strategy in the Middle East going forward. The Americans ultimately want to leave the region. Putting the burden on native countries to deal with jihadists will be something the U.S. will eventually be doing.
The Middle East is like a testing ground for the strategy the U.S. will be using in its foreign policy around the world in the coming decades. The U.S. is learning that in the wars it has waged in the Middle East, it has over-extended its ability to project power. It may be the world's superpower, but it has its limitations, like any other country. It's virtually impossible for a country on the other side of the world, even with a hundred thousand troops, to liberate a country like Iraq which has tens of millions of people.
The U.S. is learning the tactic used by the British and Roman empires: keep a balance of powers and then sit back and let them sort it out themselves. Direct military intervention would be used as a last resort if the balance breaks down.
So the U.S. wants a counter-balance to Iran. At the moment it appears to be Saudi Arabia, and more broadly a coalition of Sunni Arab states. The U.S. was a close ally with the Saudis in the Cold War and there's reluctance to break that up. But Saudi Arabia is a country on the verge with its high dependence on oil. The country's religious culture has a close semblance with the jihadists, which would make military intervention difficult. Israel has a strong military but is a small country dealing with the Palestinians.
We are still early in the evolution of this strategy, so the U.S. right now is more of feeling it out. The fact that Trump is visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey on this visit shows that any of these three countries are potentially important to the future of the region.
Turkey on the other hand is particularly interesting because it has the largest military in the region. It acts both as a secular and Islamist country. Just a little over a century ago its ancestor, the Ottoman Empire, ruled over and maintained relative stability over the areas that are now torn by conflict. It's also a NATO country. And it's getting antsy by the violence spilling into its borders...