Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster praised President Trump’s recent trip to the Middle East and Europe and spoke hopefully of a growing alliance between Israel and the United States’ Arab allies in a speech Sunday to the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington.
McMaster, who serves as Trump’s national security adviser, addressed the annual conference just days after the president announced that he was delaying a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. McMaster did not address the hot-button issue, which was a disappointment to hard-liners on Israel and to some within his administration.
Instead, McMaster described Trump’s desire to seize the initiative in a Middle East that has been ravaged by sectarian tensions, terrorism and civil war.
“Today we are witnessing a reassessment of regional relationships, most notably between Israel and a number of our Arab partners — all friends of America, but too often adversaries of each other,” McMaster said. “Today their interests are converging. This is an opportunity.”
McMaster lavished praise on Trump’s well-received address in Saudi Arabia, calling it an “extraordinary speech” in which the president “outlined a path of unity and peace to people of all faiths.” And he cited the condemnation by leaders throughout the Muslim world of “those who are hijacking Islam to justify violence against innocents.”
The Army general acknowledged that many of the leaders praising Trump’s speech and promising to do more to combat extremism had come up short in the past. Many of the United States’ Arab allies have been sources of terrorist funding and propagated an “extremist Islamist ideology” around the world, McMaster said.
“None of us, the president least of, will be impressed by mere words,” he added. He promised that the administration was developing “clear metrics” to gauge the performance of countries that had promised to cut off the flow of money to extremist groups and slow the spread of extremist rhetoric that encourages violence.
McMaster made only brief mention of the recent terrorist attacks in England, expressing sympathy for the victims and promising American support. But he went out of his way to praise Trump’s recent trip to NATO’s headquarters in which the president scolded European allies for not spending more on defense. Trump was criticized in the United States and Europe for failing to explicitly endorse NATO’s Article 5, the collective security provision that has been invoked only once — after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
McMaster insisted that Trump reaffirmed “America’s unbreakable commitment” to its NATO allies and had, in fact, endorsed Article 5. “There may be some skepticism here, too, given some of the headlines, but you heard the president convey a direct a necessary message,” McMaster told the Jewish organization.
To make his point, McMaster quoted from Trump’s speech in Brussels in which the president described the NATO alliance as rooted in “the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve and the commitments that bind us together as one.”
He acknowledged that Trump’s remarks had upset some European leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was especially critical, saying that the days when Europe could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.”
McMaster had a different take, insisting that many European leaders appreciated Trump’s remarks — especially on defense spending. “They know it sometimes takes plain speaking to spur action,” he said.