Trump's grand tour shows we still have a long way to go on beating terror

Trump after UK attack: Terrorists are evil losers
Trump after UK attack: Terrorists are evil losers

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Trump after UK attack: Terrorists are evil losers 02:39

Story highlights

  • Robertson: We have yet to reach consensus on what ISIS is and what it is not -- the first step in confronting it
  • Trump's talks only serve to highlight how far we still have to go, Robertson writes

Nic Robertson is CNN's international diplomatic editor.

(CNN)Earlier this week the world-famous Ringling Bros. Circus closed up its big-top tent for good. After 117 years of lion taming and other animal acts, it succumbed to changing values.

After decades in the wilderness, the global conversation concerning the mistreatment of animals reached a volume that could no longer be ignored.
Despite its numerous atrocities across Europe, the Middle East and America -- including Monday night's bombing and murdering of young children in Manchester -- the global discussion about ISIS has yet to reach this critical mass.
    As President Donald Trump's grand tour of faiths draws to a close, it is clear that when talking about ISIS, we are still talking past one another other.
    There is no globally agreed definition or dialogue about ISIS. We have yet to reach consensus on the most fundamental step toward confronting and ultimately tackling ISIS: agreeing on what it is and what it is not.
    At each of his stops -- Riyadh, Jerusalem and the Vatican -- Trump's individually tailored messages to each was well received.
    Trump told his audience of Arab leaders in Riyadh to "drive out the terrorists. Drive out the extremists. 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."
    By contrast, meeting the Pope was "the honor of a lifetime," Trump said, and he vowed as he left the Vatican that he was "more determined than ever to pursue peace in our world." Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said, reminded him that the US and Israel "are great allies" who "have so many opportunities in front of us, but we must seize them together."
    He sought to reassure, inspire, cajole and at times demand assistance in his quest to tackle ISIS. But in each instance, the terms of reference changed.
    His messaging was on target for each audience -- an admirable beginning to international diplomacy.
    But in a week when a depraved attacker murdered so many children in Manchester and bared, yet again, ISIS's heinous intent to the world, Trump's talks only serve to highlight how far we still have to go.
    Trump's entire speech to Muslim world
    Trump's entire speech to Muslim world

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    Trump's entire speech to Muslim world 33:58
    Until we have an agreed code -- meaning that no matter what faith we hold we can stand up and say a common truth that will be understood and unambiguously endorsed by everyone -- then we are getting nowhere.
    Enough people agreed that animals were being mistreated to turn the tide on circuses. Defining ISIS and associating responsibility around it will be much harder: we are not just intersecting cultures, but crossing faiths.
    At the White House, they would claim that this was exactly what Trump was doing: telling all he met to decry ISIS as un-Islamic.
    But was he listening, and if he was, what did he hear?
    Away from the overstuffed sofas and splendor of the Saudi palaces that Trump enjoyed, I met with some of the kingdom's poor and unemployed.
    One thought Trump chose to come to Saudi as his first global stop so he could apologize for his previous rudeness to Muslims; another man told me Trump's message to Muslims is misplaced -- it's intelligence agencies, he said, that create terrorism.
    It's been a long time since presidents can step out of their bubble and meet the average citizens as I did. It's even less likely that those citizens would feel comfortable to unload on him the way they did with me.
    Yet inside the palaces there was dissent too.
    Trump's last-minute no-show at a planned Twitter forum with young people meant he missed the speaker before him: the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister. He took issue with Trump's message.
    He threw back at the President the perceived subtext of his visit: that Muslims must fix the problem of terror.
    "There are European countries that incubate terrorists, incubate extremism and they must ... expose this falsity."
    The audience was at first stunned by the unusual candor, then began cheering -- a hint that once the adulation of Trump's tour fades, the dial on the global ISIS dialogue won't have shifted.
    We are still trapped in our language bunkers.
    In Manchester the day after the attack, one representative of the Muslim community struggled to find the right words. It's not just him, every day we edge and hedge the words we use, often in an attempt not to cause offense.
    Who is this enemy? Who has created it? And fundamentally, who is responsible? We haven't yet agreed that we all are.
    Landing from Riyadh to an unusual Heathrow bathed in glorious sunshine, then driving home in the early hours past bright rolling green fields, I should have felt uplifted.
    But 22 people were dead, many more injured. Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and teachers were hurting.
    What we are doing is clearly not enough. We don't just need Muslim leaders to preach peace, as Trump called on them to do. They do that already. What we need is frank, informed discourse that pulls in people from the coalface of de-radicalizing wannabe jihadis.
    At the conclusion of Trump's tour at the G7 leaders summit in Sicily, issues from the economy, the environment, sustainability and equality will be on the table.
    They may sound far removed from his anti-ISIS thrust during the opening phase of his tour in the Middle East, but these issues too must be part of a holistic approach to tackling ISIS.
    ISIS is a nihilism grown out of al Qaeda's intolerance. It will morph again, finding its feet where the world is shakiest, tapping into change.
    Have-nots will always dress their grievances how they want. ISIS will continue to cling to its nirvana of a caliphate. But the threat of the disenfranchised, who the world does nothing for, is the core crisis threatening all of our futures.
    Talking to -- not past -- each other and agreeing on a common dialogue worked to save circus animals. It certainly can work to put ISIS out of business.