If you thought Trump was serious about punishing Saudi Arabia, think again.
If you thought President Donald Trump was serious about punishing Saudi Arabia for the shocking disappearance — and potential murder — of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi last week, think again.
In brief comments to reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump insinuated that he was unhappy Khashoggi may have been killed in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate on October 2 — an operation possibly ordered by Riyadh’s powerful de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But Trump made sure to note that he doesn’t want to punish the Kingdom too hard — instead, he’d rather cash Saudi Arabia’s checks.
“This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen,” he told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country,” referring to his desire to sell $110 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, adding that “it would not be acceptable to me.”
Trump’s comments just made one thing extremely clear: He cares much more about getting American companies paid than defending human rights. What’s more, he doesn’t care that much about Khashoggi — who heavily criticized the crown prince in the Washington Post — because he is merely a US resident, not citizen.
It’s perhaps one of Trump’s most honest articulations about how he conducts foreign policy: He won’t call out a country that infringes upon human dignity as long as it’s willing to inject cash into the American economy. And it’s especially fine if the affected people aren’t US citizens.
Trump, it seems, just doesn’t want to risk losing incoming Saudi cash. Beyond the arms deals, Riyadh said it would invest about $20 billion in US infrastructure projects. Trump has consistently promised to rebuild much of America’s crumbling roads, bridges, and airports, but would rather not use much taxpayer money to do so.
If Trump criticizes Riyadh, then, it’s possible the $130 billion Saudi Arabia promised will no longer enter the American economy. No matter that Saudi security officials may have dismembered Khashoggi, or that Riyadh consistently disappears dissidents around the world.
But the real issue is that Trump has never been a champion of human rights. He cozies up to strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He’s escalated America’s involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. He also seems fine with children being put in cages and separating families at the US-Mexico border.
And while Trump’s business background surely biases him toward deals that bring in money for American workers, it’s jarring to see him say Saudi Arabia’s cash is enough to let it off the hook.
Under Trump, America’s humanity has a price.