It remains unsettling even after two years – especially when it is all there in black and white, complete with exclamation points. The American president’s worldview is so blatantly self-interested that it cannot remain unchallenged.
It was already well-known that Donald Trump puts the interests of his country first, at the expense of other countries if necessary. It was known that he defines the world as transactional. With respect to the Middle East, it was known he sided with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and against Iran and the Palestinians since day one.
As of this week, it has also become clear that Trump continuously remains capable of surpassing even himself in diplomatic callousness. Even the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the famine resulting from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen are not enough to dissuade him from his current position.
In a statement, he explained why he continues to support Saudi Arabia. He called the journalist’s murder a “horrible crime” and acknowledged that humanitarian support for Yemen remains “desperately needed,” but he spares the regime that is responsible for Khashoggi’s death and that is bombing Yemen.
Trump gave three reasons for this. The Saudis are spending $450 billion in the United States, which is obviously good for the U.S. A quarter of this will be going to American defense contractors, and that is good for the U.S. as well. And at Trump’s request, the Saudis are also keeping oil prices low, which is good for the U.S. and the world.
Blinded by cheap oil and seduced by weapons sales, Trump maintains his alliance with a hereditary dictatorship with medieval social mores that does not hesitate to send a death squad to Turkey to murder a journalist in grisly fashion.
Even after the CIA determined, in light of leaked messages, that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder, Trump defended Mohammed bin Salman. “[I]t could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” the president wrote.
Trump’s statement was also full of errors. He took Riyadh’s claim that Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood at face value, though many people dispute that. He estimated Saudi investments in the U.S. to be higher than they actually are. He also exaggerated Iran’s role in the conflict in Yemen while downplaying Saudi Arabia’s involvement.
The presidential statement is objectionable because, once again, Trump does violence to the truth. But above all, the statement is disturbing given that Trump considers trade to be more important than justice.
The defense of Saudi Arabia gives license to other autocratic regimes that do not respect freedom of the press and human rights, and that see democracy as an obstacle standing in the way of the wealth and power of the elite. Autocrats have little to fear from this president. Trump’s statement points the way to a world in which the “might is right” principle prevails, and where it is “tough luck” for the most vulnerable.
Trump disabuses American foreign policy of any idealistic pretensions. That is illuminating to a certain extent. It is logically inconsistent to admonish rogue regimes on Sunday and supply them with weapons on Monday. Trump has torn away the shroud of hypocrisy. Everyone now knows where they stand: for the time being, at least, the struggle for a better world will not be given a home in the U.S.
In the Commentary section, NRC weighs in on important news. Commentators write these articles in cooperation with the editorial board.