FORGOTTEN, it seems, are his tweets calling them “cowards” and his Facebook post likening them to slaveholders. The people of Saudi Arabia, not least the royal family, seem to care only about what Donald Trump is saying now. And while Candidate Trump taunted the Saudis, President Trump has embraced them, making the kingdom his first foreign destination.
In Riyadh, the capital, on May 20th-21st, he sought to reassure Muslim leaders and draw a sharp contrast with Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
The centrepiece of the trip was a speech by Mr Trump to dozens of Sunni Muslim leaders, which his staff billed as an answer to Mr Obama’s address in Cairo in 2009. In their own way, both presidents sought to reset America’s relations with the Muslim world. But whereas Mr Obama attempted to mend the damage wrought by the war in Iraq, Mr Trump was burdened by his own Islamophobic rhetoric. “I think Islam hates us,” said Mr Trump last year, after calling for a blanket ban on Muslims entering America. His first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, considered Islam a “malignant cancer”.
Autocrats and dictators must have short memories, because Mr Trump’s appeal to fight extremism, which he now says is “not a battle between different faiths”, but “between good and evil”, seemed to go down well in Riyadh. Perhaps it helped that the president did not push his audience on their generally poor human-rights records, which many analysts think contribute to terrorism. Such hounding was more the way of Mr Obama (who addressed university students in 2009 and firmly stood up for human rights). “We are not here to lecture,” said Mr Trump. “We are not here to tell other people…what to do.”