The world is slowly finding out what naked American power unsheathed from the usual platitudes looks like.
In an unsurprising statement entitled “America First!” made by US President Donald Trump on Monday night, the leader completely backed Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (better known as MBS) despite the brutal and savage killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump declared that although it “could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event”, the US would continue to recognise its “relationship is with Saudi Arabia” to ensure the continued interests of the US, Israel and “all other partners in the region”.
Trump summarised his position with his final sentence: “Very simply it is called America First!”.
Money talks but the dead stay silent
Amidst Trump’s customary rambling about “Radical Islamic Terrorism” – all capitalised, in case you were in any doubt about his agenda when using such woefully ignorant terminology – and Riyadh’s key role in assisting Washington’s attempts to “eliminate the threat of terrorism”, the president made it clear that much of his reasoning lay in Saudi investments in the American economy, including hefty arms purchases.
Last year, Trump made a heavily publicised trip to Riyadh, which preceded the current Saudi-Qatar spat that has divided the already tenuous Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and was widely viewed as the turning point for MBS’ more radical shift to authoritarianism. Trump’s trip yielded $450 billion-worth of investments, of which $110 billion was earmarked for the purchase of military equipment from key arms manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and others.
There is no doubt that this was a wily move by the Saudi Arabians, who leveraged their relationship with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and accurately identified what the president’s priorities were, then played to them. MBS, and his senior aides, well knew that Trump would turn a blind eye to the methods used in pursuing the de facto leader’s reforms - including holding scholars and businessmen hostage - in exchange for the continued Saudi stimulus of the US economy. The genius of the move is further highlighted by the fact that many of the deals involved in the $450 billion investment are still on paper with the contracts yet to be fulfilled, meaning that MBS and his coterie would be insulated from any potential moves by the US that would seriously threaten the crown prince. Knock MBS out and hundreds of billions of dollars simply vanish.
Trump has paid what amounts to little more than lip service to the notion of morality and justice by having the US Treasury apply sanctions to 17 Saudi operatives and officials, all of whom were expendable to MBS. This narrow and callous view of interests-based politics has been taken to its logical extreme, killing off any need for the United States to even pretend to be a moral actor in a “mean, nasty” world, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last night in reference to the Khashoggi affair. The final consensus in Washington is that Khashoggi’s killing was not very pleasant, but nothing will be done about it apart from slaughtering a few sacrificial sheep on the altar of the American dollar.
Business as usual for America
However, at least we can say that Trump is honest about the US position towards democracy, human rights and respect for the sanctity of human life. While he is definitely boorish and incorrigible in his approach, he is at least clear and open about where the US stands.
Let us not forget that, much as the liberals may love him, his predecessor Barack Obama actually killed far more people than Trump has done and even ramped up the drone killing programme that former president George Bush initiated. Obama authorised 542 drone strikes throughout his presidency, killing 3,797 people, including at least 324 civilians (although this number is likely to be much higher as it is an official US estimate that is not independently verified).
Obama also famously turned a blind eye to the rape and subsequent murder of democracy in Egypt, where thousands of peaceful protesters were mindlessly slaughtered by current strongman and dictator Abdel Fattah el Sisi in 2013, most famously at the Rabaa massacre. It made for cringeworthy viewing as Obama’s officials refused to call a coup, a coup, simply because federal law forbids the support of a foreign military that has been involved in overthrowing a civilian government.
Of course, no one can possibly forget the original sin of the 21st Century, the invasion of Iraq, in which the US, under former president Bush, exported a monstrous fraud of a democracy under the cover of high explosive munitions and the torture of thousands of detainees in prison complexes such as Abu Ghraib. All of this was justifiable as the United States making the world a better place and, once again, eradicating terrorism. Yet it is perfectly fine for US allies to kill their critics so long as they keep the money flowing into US coffers.
While Trump’s decision is certainly abhorrent, history has long taught us that we must recognise that US policy has always been geared towards America First, Morality Last.
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