Trump’s Embarrassing Saudi Visit
Ishaan Tharoor reviews Trump’s Riyadh speech:
But let’s be clear about what the speech really was: A sop, soaked in platitudes, to the Saudi agenda in the Middle East.
Trump’s embrace of the Saudis and their agenda is in keeping with his general enthusiasm for our most authoritarian clients and allies, and the speech was a statement of his administration’s Iran obsession and what passes for conventional wisdom in Washington regarding relations with our clients in the region. According to the latter view, Obama was insufficiently supportive of U.S. clients in the region and too open to accommodating Iran, and so Trump has made a point of proving how different he is from Obama by subordinating U.S. policy in the region to the preferences of Riyadh. Where Obama was shamefully supportive of the Saudis, as he was in Yemen, Trump insists on being even more so, and where Obama offered mildly critical (and empty) rhetoric about Saudi behavior Trump will offer nothing but praise. If the Saudis and their allies weren’t the authors of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and if our government wasn’t deepening its complicity in their war crimes in Yemen, the pathetic coddling of the Saudis might not be quite so obnoxious, but they are and it is.
The display the president put on in Riyadh is what happens when the U.S. makes keeping “no daylight” with its clients the top priority. Not only is there no criticism of the client’s behavior, no matter how deserved such criticism might be, but there is excessive fawning and stroking of the client’s ego that creates the false impression that we need them far more than they need us. This goes beyond being merely diplomatic and becomes groveling and begging for the client’s affection. No doubt this “reassures” our clients–that our leaders are easy to manipulate and only too willing to do whatever the clients want. No important U.S. interests are served by doing this. The only ones to benefit are the despots on the receiving end of U.S. backing, and even then they are being indulged in their worst and most ruinous habits.
The absurdity of this approach to the Saudi relationship (and of the entire visit) was summed up in a weird image from the opening of the so-called “Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology”:
“The power of Riyadh is at your command, Sauron, Lord of the Earth” pic.twitter.com/OxZEDmxXi0
— Daniel Larison (@DanielLarison) May 21, 2017
Trump went out of his way to identify himself and the U.S. very publicly with one of our most awful clients at a moment when they are responsible for causing enormous suffering in Yemen, and that is going to come back to haunt him and us sooner or later.