We all know that Donald Trump is an authoritarian (I say fascist) ignoramus who is only interested in himself. His policies are terrible and have already done great harm to our country and the world -- His deregulations have helped polluters and criminals --- His foreign policy has enabled dictators – including the Saudi government with its famine-inducing war in Yemen.
[For details of the Saudi intervention in Yemen see Al Jazeera, NewsYemen “ Key facts about the war in Yemen: The ongoing war in Yemen, which has displaced millions of people, is far more complex than a Sunni-Shia conflict.” 25 Mar 2018
We know all those terrible things that the Trump administration has perpetrated on our country and the world. (Previous commentaries have specified many of the impacts of administrative decisions involving deregulation.)
Yet that is not why the journalistic and political establishment is so mad at him. No, they are angry because his stupidity led him to speak -- a truth --- that the establishment has long sought to hide from our fellow citizens. That truth is that the so-called values of American democracy must -- (yes, must) -- be sacrificed when American national and economic interests are at stake. (And by the way --- “national” and “economic” interests are rarely the subject of debate within the country --- It is just taken as a given that whatever the political and economic elite believe is in the national interest, is IN FACT, in the “national interest.”)
What did Trump say about the Saudi prince’s direction of the assassination of Khashoggi? Here is the statement in full:
The world is a very dangerous place!
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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! [end of statement]
I will not waste time responding to all the ins and outs of the statement. I will emphasize the obvious fact that what he was saying, in effect is that the amount of money Saudi Arabia spends in the US is too important to let the murder of a journalist --- even a journalist who was a permanent resident of the US (with American children) --- damage the US alliance with Saudi Arabia. He also blamed the war in Yemen solely on Iran – a charge which is absurd on its face.
The screaming headlines and hand wringing condemnations are almost laughable.
“No American President has ever said anything like this….” Appears to be the major complaint – “Our values are for sale” whines one pundit. Note this condemnation is virtually unanimous. Democrats are piling on because they are anxious to portray Trump as a tool of foreign powers (like Russia and Saudi Arabia). Republicans are angry because Trump has left himself open to charges that he is a tool of foreign powers. Liberals see Trump as departing from our most cherished values. Right-wing conservatives, brought up on the struggles of the Cold War, are incapable of seeing Russia as a “kindred spirit” with the potential to be an ally of ours in certain geo-strategic struggles. Only left-wingers like myself (and perhaps some principled libertarian anti-interventionists) see what everyone else refuses to see.
Memo to the chattering classes – what Trump said in his crude, unfiltered statement --- IS TRUE! I could give scores of examples, just from the 20th century, where so-called American ideals were thrown overboard for crass political and/or economic gain.
Case in point: World War I
President Woodrow Wilson is often criticized by historians for his “idealism.” He, of course, argued that the US had to fight in World War I to make the world safe for democracy. However, this is the same Woodrow Wilson who sent American troops to occupy Veracruz in Mexico in 1914 – and who later sent American troops to intervene in Russia after the communist revolution. His “idealism” when attending the peace talks to end the war did not extend to paying any serious attention to the representatives of colonies seeking independence from their European “masters.”
Or take the iconic liberal President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1938, an American company found that there were vast reserves of oil beneath the sands of Saudi Arabia. During World War II, FDR promised the Saudi government that if they kept the oil flowing, the US would always be there to support them. Donald Trump is merely the last of a long line of Presidents who have given the Saudi regime a blank check to do anything they wanted to stay in power so long as the oil kept flowing. It’s just that no other President from Roosevelt through Obama would be so crass as to admit that fact publicly.
Final two examples:
In 1953, the US CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran after it had moved to nationalize the oil companies. The Iranians never forgot and when the Shah was overthrown, they took revenge by taking hostages after finally overthrowing the Shah in 1979. In 1954 Guatemala was the object of CIA intervention. That (democratically elected) government moved to nationalize some of United Fruit Company’s land. We helped “rebels” successfully overthrow that government using the pretext that they had bought arms from Czechoslovakia, then a communist county.
[For details on the Iran coup, see Bethany Allen-Ehahimian “64 Years Later, CIA Finally Releases Details of Iranian Coup New documents reveal how the CIA attempted to call off the failing coup – only to be salvaged at the last minute by an insubordinate spy.” Foreign Policy June 20, 2017 available at https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/20/64-years-later-cia-finally-releases-details-of-iranian-coup-iran-tehran-oil/
For details of the intervention in Guatemala, see Stephen Kinzer and Stephen Schlesinger, Bitter Fruit, The story of the American coup in Guatemala (revised and expanded). Introduction: John H. Coatsworth. Foreward: Richard A. Nuccio (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005)]
The coup in Guatemala had serious consequences. Subsequent regimes went on to commit numerous atrocities against their own people --- often helped by US government assistance in training their armed forces. (This applied to other Central American countries as well.)
Donald Trump may be stupid and ignorant of a lot of history – but he knows this stuff. The cardinal sin he committed in the eyes of the talking heads and politicians who are wringing their hands over his crass statement is he has dispensed with the fig leaf our leaders have used to cover up decades of the real goals of American foreign policy.
In the second decade of the 20th century, our so-called national interest called for punishing Mexican revolutionaries or trying to prevent Russian revolutionaries from consolidating power. Between 1945 and 1975, the goal was stopping nationalist communists from coming to power in Vietnam. Every one of these interventions have been sold by American leaders as arising from the purest of motives – our great national commitment to democracy and freedom.
The US in not unique. All imperial powers have such rationalizations for their policies. The terrible “sin” committed by Donald Trump in the eyes of the establishment is that he has dispensed with the rationalization and cut to the chase. It is all about money and power --- our so-called ideals can be forgotten if something more important (oil, other investments, geo-strategic advantages) is at stake.
The only way to really oppose Trump and his policies is to give up on the idea of an American Empire altogether ----- and decide once and for all that what happens in other countries is their business not ours. [The best introduction to this analysis of US foreign policy remains William Appleman Williams’ book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.]
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.
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