The Irish Times view on Trump and Saudi Arabia: Autocracy first!

The US president’s support for Riyadh underlines his tragically wrong-headed view of foreign relations

US president Donald Trump says he will not destroy the global economy by being tough on Saudi Arabia over the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Video: The White House

 

In a 633-word statement filled with exclamation marks and the unmistakably disjointed rhetoric that characterises his speech, US president Donald Trump finally dropped any pretence that the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi could cause his administration to break with Saudi Arabia.

In formally affirming his support for Riyadh, Trump defied his own intelligence services and a vast amount of evidence suggesting that the killing of Khashoggi, the journalist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, was done with the knowledge of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said.

In the real world, Trump’s statement actually deals a blow to American interests

In other words, he left open the possibility that one of his closest allies had lied to him, but concluded it didn’t matter anyway.

US president Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, meets Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May 2017. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US president Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, meets Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May 2017. File photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“America first!” Trump’s statement began. What followed neatly encapsulated his tragically wrong-headed view of foreign policy as a purely transactional business, where values and morality are subsidiary concerns that will always be trumped by financial and geo-political interests. “Our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said, not with Khashoggi. He went on to list the ways in which Riyadh advances US interests: the money it spends on US weaponry, its opposition to Iran, its anti-terror cooperation, and its control of oil prices.

In the real world, Trump’s statement actually deals a blow to American interests. It alienates Turkey, a fellow Nato state, which has called for Riyadh to be punished for the gruesome killing in Istanbul. It also undermines the efforts of his own administration to bring an end to the war in Yemen; at a time when the State Department has been urging all parties to end the conflict, Trump shifted the onus squarely onto Iran by saying Riyadh would “gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians agreed to leave”.

Worst of all, Trump’s position will embolden despots and autocrats across the world. Its message to them? Kill as many people as you like because, if you buy our goods and serve our geopolitical goals, we’ll turn a blind eye.

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