WASHINGTON — (Opinion) You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump: when the U.S. president kisses up to murderers, he lays his reasons right out there for us. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, most notably Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, shall go without so much as a wrist slap from the world’s most powerful and influential country because oil prices might go up in America. And multi-billion dollar weapons deals — the true value of which Trump has grossly inflated for boasting purposes — might be jeopardized. And Saudi entourages might choose the inn across the street rather than the Trump Hotel to blow their millions in.
There’s only one thing all these dire consequences have in common: money. In the Bible, it would be “pieces of silver” or perhaps “shekels.” The song says money makes the world go ‘round, and we sort of knew that all along, but it has taken Donald Trump to simper its gospel from the highest pulpit in the land: “The God of Money is a jealous God and you shall worship no other. Not Justice. Not Compassion. Not Freedom. Not the Earth Itself. Crush freedom, pursue injustice, check your compassion at the door, and despoil the planet if it makes us richer, if it pays.”
That’s not exactly, word for word, what Trump’s remarkable official statement — setting forth the U.S.’s position on Saudi Arabia in the wake of the CIA’s conclusion that the Kingdom’s Crown Prince ordered the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi — says. But it does not take much reading between the lines to get the point.
Trump begins with a centered, italicized “America First!” (perhaps all our official presidential statements are now to begin with a meaningless slogan, the way “Heil Hitler!” became a meaningless greeting that nonetheless spoke volumes). He then retreats to the left margin to shout “The world is a very dangerous place!” This further meaningless observation will then serve, along with his opening salute, to justify everything that follows: how we have to stick with the murderous Saudis, whether they are murdering journalists or Yemeni school-children, because . . . well because the world is very dangerous, life stinks, it is what it is, and we really don’t have any other choice. With such words every thief, every criminal, every amoral perpetrator of evil would justify themselves to history’s tribunal — it’s laughably trite. Except the world, that “very dangerous place,” is not laughing.
More exclamation points, false innuendo about Khashoggi’s politics and Iran’s menace, and pathetic rationalizations and excuses follow. And then the next day, via tweet, comes the real cause to celebrate, the best part: “Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!”
That’s dollars a barrel, all that really matters.
Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
Trump the first not to hold his nose
The United States — hardly alone among world powers, but perhaps in a class of its own in its hypocrisy — has a sordid history of cozying up to the bastards of the world. From Somoza to Trujillo to Marcos to Pinochet to Mugabe and even, to a point, Saddam, the thought, if not the actual words, “He may be an S.O.B. but he’s our S.O.B.” has guided American policy in dealing with our various brutal friends around the globe.
But while our presidents, from F.D.R. through G.W. Bush and Obama, held their noses while making deals with these lesser devils, Donald Trump breathes deep and seems to revel in the stench of such affinities. He embraces the worst of the worst, whether Rodrigo Duterte or Kim Jong-un, with an undisguised envy for their authoritarian prowess, palpably frustrated that his own hands are thus far tied by what is left of American democracy.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the brutal, premeditated, state-sponsored murder of Washington Post journalist Khashoggi — to the recording of whose “suffering” Trump tells us he’s too sensitive to listen — is no reason in the president’s mind to review his, and thus our, manifestly unholy alliance with the Saudis. But his voicing of undying love for the Saudis and their various greeds and brutalities is so wrong on so many levels that it is a challenge to keep track.
All the bad reasons in the world
First, there is the obvious, willful, stand-by-your-man blindness to the precedent-setting gravitas of the deed itself. Heads of state murdering dissident journalists by sending hit squads to their consulates on foreign soil is a bad look for the world, and other nations have responded accordingly.
Then there is the ultimate reason given: the Saudis control an oil spigot and could wreak havoc with world markets. The context here is all-important: Trump, carrying out his campaign to obliterate anything and everything built by his predecessor Barack Obama, unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal — a deal all other parties to which, and all monitors of, regarded as being faithfully kept on Iran’s part — and hit Iran with crippling sanctions, including of course on its oil exports. This unprovoked — if it ain’t broke, I’ll break it! — aggression naturally left both the U.S. and the world market with a temporarily heightened dependence on Saudi oil flow, though that dependence is nowhere near what Trump, in his desperate self-justification, makes it out to be.
This is not grandmaster chess: the consequences of U.S. Iran policy required seeing ahead all of one move on the board. Now Trump has effectively taken the America he was going to “make great again” and prostrated it before the Saudi ruling family. It will be interesting to see how Trump as what U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) referred to as “Saudi Arabia’s bitch” plays with his nationalistic cult at home. Will they too place the possibility of a few cents more per gallon, or whatever trickle-down they may ever see from Trump’s bogus “$110 billion” in arms sales, above national honor? At some point will it occur to them that Trump is positioning us as not only America the Amoral but America the Weak, or that the profit goes to Trump&Co while the stain is on our nation? Will they see through the “America First!” smokescreen and make out the “Trump First!” lurking behind it?
Then, on a still deeper level, there is this profound wrong: the embrace of oil itself. Increasing America’s thirst for oil and other fossil fuels, at a time when the rest of the planet is looking to renewable energy sources to rescue us from the catastrophic cascade of climate change, is indefensibly stupid. Trump, in leading that backward march to planetary hell, betrays naked greed, profound ignorance — indeed undisguised contempt for knowledge and science — and utter disregard for consequences. Most children could easily grasp and process what he apparently can not.
All he can process are numbers — 54 and 82 — especially if they have $s in front of them to catch his attention. The world is indeed a very dangerous place, and selfish, greedy, vain, compassionless, amoral, power-thirsting, cruel, careless, small, bloated men like Donald Trump make it immeasurably more so.
Top Photo | Trump and bin Salman cozy up in the Oval Office. Bandar Algaloud | Saudi Kingdom Council Handout
Jonathan D. Simon, author of CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century, is a cofounder and currently executive director of Election Defense Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 to restore observable vote counting and electoral integrity as the foundation of US democracy.
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