Editorial: 'Standing with Saudi Arabia' and without American principles

  • Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Trump says the United States will not levy additional punitive measures at this time over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Trump says the United States will not levy additional punitive measures at this time over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bloomberg photo by Luke MacGregor

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 11/21/2018 9:36 AM

In a policy statement stunning for its proud lack of principle, President Donald Trump Tuesday declared that "standing with Saudi Arabia" is an American priority apparently more urgent than any show of virtue or demand for justice. In so doing, he has surrendered our country's claim to pre-eminence in the struggle for universal human rights

The president's defense of a decision to officially and publicly look the other way at the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, is so nakedly mercenary that it goes beyond the bounds of simply addressing the Khashoggi outrage and once-and-for-all redefines the nature of what it means to be American.


"America First!" the president exclaims in the subtitle to his statement and again in its conclusion, but his interpretation of the phrase is wholly limited to the depiction of America as a commercial enterprise. It entirely excludes any place for American ideals.

Considered as a whole, the statement is a convoluted attempt to have it both ways on Saudi Arabia. Trump acknowledges that we "know many details" of the Khashoggi killing thanks to our "great independent research," and yet, despite the apparent conclusion of his own CIA that the torture-murder was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, goes on to emphatically pronounce that "maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" He calls Khashoggi's murder "unacceptable," then insists that it must be accepted because the kingdom has agreed to spend $450 billion on American goods and services, including $110 billion "on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors." In short, in his wildly exaggerated claim, he is saying, if a nation pays us enough, it can kill whomever it pleases.

Further, his justification for the sale of that weaponry is as void of concern for the well-documented suffering of the Yemeni people it is being used on as it is of interest in notions of morality and justice in the Khashoggi killing. Based solely on faith, apparently, he vows that the Saudis would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would. He assures us Saudi Arabia is eager to provide humanitarian assistance to the civilians it is bombing with American military equipment and -- wholly aside from the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens -- is "leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism." Thus does the president of the United States, the paragon of the American ideal, reduce our nation's duty for promoting and defending the principles of justice and freedom to a stark commercial equation in which human rights, human values and human character are subservient to some callous form of financial exchange.

It is disturbing enough that the president has no interest in holding Saudi Arabia accountable for an action so contemptible within the boundaries of international law and American values. That he has done so with these arguments, in this way, only serves to further erode his respectability -- and our nation's -- as the bearer of the torch of human dignity and freedom.

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