Trump’s Statement on the Khashoggi Murder: A Window on the Meaning of “America First!”

I’m taking a quick break this morning from writing my book to analyze Trump’s short “Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia”. It’s an opportunity for us to see, in cold hard text, what Trump means by “America First,” and whether it is any longer reasonable to try and impute any form of American *values* or *principles* onto Trump’s use of that phrase. As I said, it’s short, so I’ll just take it paragraph by paragraph.

The world is a very dangerous place!

Be prepared to accept something you normally would not, because fear.

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”

Let’s first focus on all the bad, scary things that Iran has done–the death, destruction and suffering it has caused. Scary!

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.

Forget whatever you knew about Saudi Arabia before reading this statement. Just focus on the fact that Saudi Arabia is willing to do stuff to address those scary things Iran has done. Plus, if they’re willing to provide “desperately needed humanitarian assistance,” they must be good!

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

Look at this awesome deal I made with the Saudis! Lots of good stuff! Jobs! Development! Wealth! You wouldn’t want to let Russia and China get that good stuff, would you?

The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.

Yeah, ok, that murder of Khashoggi was terrible. But we’re doing something about it, really we are! We did “great independent research”–and we’re sanctioning individuals–17 of them! That’s a lot, right? Plus here I am, saying our country doesn’t condone it. That’s good, right?

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

Sorry, all you people trying to ascribe principled motives to me. My decision “is in no way based” on Khashoggi being a bad guy and us properly not caring about whether some bad guys murder other bad guys. Also, just forget what American intelligence agencies say about the Crown Prince ordering the murder. He and his father–with whom I made that great deal, remember!–don’t just deny it, but *vigorously* deny it. That’s good enough for me to call into question anything my intelligence agencies say–at least until I can get them in line!

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!

You’re not fully comfortable with my accepting the word of Saudi royalty over our own intelligence agencies? Don’t you worry your little head over that! Our relationship isn’t really with them anyway. We have a relationship with the “Kingdom,” not with any particular individuals in it. Not even the King and Crown Prince, with whom I made that fabulous deal! And somehow, even though the King and Crown Prince of a Kingdom are likely associated with a terrible murder, remaining a “steadfast partner” of the Kingdom will be in our interest. Just take my word for it. Oh, and let me cash in here on the fear I stoked above, and mention Iran (bad, scary, dangerous, remember?), Israel (good) and terrorism (bad, scary).

I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

If any politician disagrees with me on this, he or she is potentially setting aside “the absolute security and safety of America” for “political or other reasons.” [Projection?] Also: Oil prices! And danger! America First!

So what does “America First!” mean, for Trump? At least in a “very dangerous world,” it means setting aside evidence, values and principle, and instead: (1) “Remain[ing] a steadfast partner” with a Kingdom whose Crown Prince may have ordered a “terrible murder” because, for the moment, that Kingdom doesn’t “wish to do us harm,” and is fighting against a Republic that, in this moment, does. And accordingly, it means (2) Following through on a deal made to help arm said Kingdom because we don’t want all the good stuff we’ll get pursuant to that deal to go to others, potentially those (Russia and China) who may “wish to do us harm.”

If we do indeed live in a “very dangerous world,” will Trump’s version of “America First” make it less so?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Trump’s Statement on the Khashoggi Murder: A Window on the Meaning of “America First!”

  1. Robert Mathenge

    Awesome.

  2. Assuming the Saudis made a determination that Khashoggi was, in fact, a traitor and/or a terrorist, why would it matter how SA dealt with their own? If we start demanding American values (who gets to define what those are) or America’s due process rights of all other countries of the world, who would be left to trade with? Seems to me the guy was a probably a bad guy that SA decided to remove, just as our CIA has done many, many times. I don’t condone the act, let alone the method, but aren’t we being a bit hypocritical if we start canceling trade deals whenever the other side acts in a way similar to the way we act? That is, of course, unless you think when the CIA does it, that’s OK, which I do not. Then again, I am not privy to what our intelligence services know about bad actors spread out across the globe. Had Khashoggi not been a WP contributor, would we likely even know about this? Seems the American reaction to the event is all about severing the ties with SA. If that’s what American journos really want, they had plenty of reason to clamor for that before the Khashoggi killing. Where were they then?

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Note, though, that Trump explicitly denies making his decision based on the idea that “Khashoggi was, in fact, a traitor and/or a terrorist.” Also, how is the hypocrisy of American journalists relevant to my criticism of Trump here? I’ve criticized Obama for having ties to the Saudis, and have also criticized Trump for making nice with other thuggish dictators.

      • Oh, and do you have a link to some evidence about our CIA “removing” critical journalists “many, many times”?

        • I did not say the CIA killed journalists. I’m saying the CIA has killed those our government has deemed to be bad guys. Do I have evidence of the CIA removing journalists? Of course, not… But are you suggesting our CIA does not kill bad guys? I guess I didn’t make my argument very clear – that we are asking KSA to act in a way that we do not, despite that we have no DEFINITIVE proof of who, or why, the deed was done. Also, I do not consider you to be a journalist. You’re an opinion writer. Journalists have already decided by implication that MbS is guilty of ordering the hit. They don’t have the facts but it’s clear they do have an agenda.

        • Also, I believe that our CIA is a lot better of doing black ops than are most other country’s version of our CIA.

      • Trump said his decision was based on America’s national security and it would appear, he feels SA is better as a partner than as an adversary. Also, at least so far, Trump is distinguishing between the 17 accused of the killing and the KSA. I think it’s very possible that the POTUS knows facts about this case he cannot divulge at this time and that if we knew those facts as well, we might think differently about MbS and the KSA as compared to the killers. Maybe the killers were sent by KSA… I don’t know. the world is far from perfect and there are a lot of countries I’d rather we didn’t do business with. These are decisions not up to me. There is the world we want and then there is the world we have.

  3. Leonid Fainberg

    Yes, it’s a pragmatism in its best. American politicians and especially the president should follow moral principles and not political and economical benefits of the moment. America supossed to cut all relations with Vladimir Putin who kills dissenters on daily basis and uses chemical warfare in the foreign country for that. He is also an aggressor who occupied Crimea and started bloody war in Ukraine. Why Russian ambassador is still in Moscow? And what about China? They jail dissenters by thousands. How about Erdogan? Why Turkey still in NATO and America still have military base in Turkey? What about Egyptian al Sisi who simply hungs dissenters? America provides to Egypt 3 billion dollars annually. In principle America should cut all ties with all these countries. But in real life it will never happen because in real politics one should follow principles and not to drop content . In real politics one often has to choose between bad and worse. And this is the meaning of Trump’s message. Yes Saudi Arabia is bad but Iran and terrorism is much worse. As during WWII America became an ally with Stalin against Hitler so Trump choose alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran. In Objectivism one should live by principles but never forget the concrete bound.

  4. Frank Galusha

    Trump believes he is acting in our best and most rational self interest. I might do likewise given all that we face but we are compromising our principles and we know it. We cannot promote freedom by tapping state murderers on the wrist. This murder, did not occur on our soil so while we are not responsible we cannot turn our backs either. If we want others to adopt our sense of life we have to lead by example. A good way to do that would be to demand that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey bring those responsible to trial for judgment and, if guilty, punishment. Beyond that, we have to show the world that in any conflict with evil we are going to side with with the individual first and the state last, and if that means fighting a planet-wide war — bring it on! Any country’s leaders who disagree with that are not true allies.

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