‘A Truly Spectacular Ally’: Trump’s Saudi First Foreign Policy
Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility for the Khashoggi murder is getting harder and harder for Trump to deny:
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally.
Despite reports that Trump has already been told this, the president remains in denial and keeps making excuses for the Saudis:
President Trump says he will be briefed today on the CIA report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while also calling Saudi Arabia "a truly spectacular ally." https://t.co/hm54bR3yh4 pic.twitter.com/JAC1rPAYeb
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 17, 2018
Note that Trump’s definition of what constitutes a “truly spectacular ally” depends entirely on what he thinks the other country does for the U.S. in terms of “jobs and economic development.” That is a ridiculous way to think about alliances, but that seems to be how Trump views these relationships. In the Saudi case, it also happens to be false. He grossly exaggerates the importance of Saudi Arabia for our economy, and then considers them a “truly spectacular” ally because of the exaggerated role he has invented in his own mind. Trump routinely treats other far more valuable and powerful treaty allies with disdain because they supposedly rip us off, but he refuses to punish the reckless Saudis because he thinks they pay us enough.
The truth is that Saudi Arabia isn’t our ally in any meaningful sense. There is no treaty that requires either of our governments to come to the aid of the other, and our interests and Saudi interests have been diverging for many years. The purpose of any American alliance is supposed to be advancing the security interests of the U.S., but in practice the connection with the Saudis has meant that the U.S. subordinates our interests to those of the kingdom. Support for the Saudi coalition war on Yemen is the most consequential and destructive example of this, but that is just part of a larger pattern of allowing bad client states to define U.S. interests in the region according to their preferences. The same thing led to U.S. involvement in Syria, and it is why U.S. forces are still there illegally today. Instead of asking how the U.S. benefits from supporting the reckless behavior of our regional clients, one administration after another insists that we must indulge the reckless behavior in order to maintain the relationships with those clients. Things have reached a point where the U.S. will enable the most horrific atrocities to keep the Saudis “on board” with a policy of hostility towards Iran that they have wanted all along and have urged on us. Preserving the noxious relationship with Saudi Arabia has become an end in itself, and Trump’s Saudi First foreign policy has put support for that relationship ahead of everything else.