In his first overseas visit, US president Donald Trump landed in the Middle East to give a speech. If that reminds you of someone, it’ll be because his predecessor did the same thing. Don’t be surprised, Washington has a remarkable way of encouraging continuity.
The foreign policy in the second term of Bush 43 was more similar to Obama 44’s two terms than either will admit publicly. As the events of 9/11 faded into history the realities of organising a balance of power in the Middle East were emerging. The US needed Iran, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia to balance each other and avoid Washington’s central fear: the domination of Middle Eastern energy by a single entity.
Back in 2009, Mr Obama said: “the first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.” Presidents 43, 44 and 45 all avoided using the term “Islamic terrorism.” Mr Trump came the closest when he said last week “Islamic extremism, and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds." What does this avoidance tell us about US foreign policy in 2017?
Mr Obama’s evasion was expected. There are only two kinds of people in the US: Christians and communists/progressives. Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus was a Marxist? Well, I suppose with the historical order of things, we'd have to reverse this. We'd have to say not that Jesus was a Marxist, but that Marx was a Christian. Or more correctly, that Marxism is a sect of Christianity. Immediately, two groups will be horrified by this proposition: Christians and Marxists. By my count, this is, oh, pretty much, everybody.
Why is this relevant? Terrorism works for leftists – and so do many other forms of democratic activism. Terrorism is anarchism: a shattering of order. Is there such a thing as right-wing anarchism? Of course not: the concept is silly. If the word "right" means anything, its goal is not to shatter order but impose it. Therefore, terror in the Middle East aligned with Mr Obama’s leftism, which explains his hands-off attitude.
But Mr Trump’s verbal stumbling offers a chance to observe the incredible power of the US position. When people say "everyone has their own opinions," this is not a sign of weakness, abdication or relativism. Quite the contrary. It is the assertion that the concept of free speech and rational discussion has complete sovereignty over the conversation. And, as it turns out, those concepts are the bedrock of the Christian West. This is power in action, hidden behind a thin veil.
So when US presidents say there is no clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity, we must see this for what it really is. They are giving us an important message: since the Christian West is in total control of the world's system, we deny Islam the specific freedom even to be at war with us. And we all sit back, nod our heads, and agree with this form of statement. That is true power.
Islam is not the enemy because it has already been subsumed into the US-led “international community.” The conflict is only with those who act in competition – the extremists. Mr Trump has Washington’s playbook, even if he’s a little behind the times. The US is under no threat because it robs its rivals of agency. Almost an entire religion has consented to this without argument. Power isn’t about making things true or untrue, but the ability to make things exist or not exist.