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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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Video Clip: Is it Fair for Transgender Females to Compete in Women’s Sports?

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