President Trump’s recent statement on Saudi Arabia was, in some ways, just as terrible as his worst critics made it out to be. You can’t listen to the president essentially ignore evidence that implicates Mohammad bin Salman in the reprehensible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi without feeling a twinge of moral disgust. There is literally no doubt in the world that MBS was in the know (if not directly responsible) for Khashoggi’s death, and for President Trump to sweep it under the rug makes for an unfortunate black mark on our national integrity.
And yet, he’s making the only decision he can.
Lawmakers and pundits who have no direct skin in the game can afford to ride their high horses and accuse the president of all manner if ethical and strategic mistakes. They aren’t the ones sitting in the Oval Office with our national security and our collective future at stake. Trump is. He must do what is right – not always in the absolute sense of the word, but always, always in the interests of the United States as a nation.
That is exactly what he’s doing here. Put plainly, Saudi Arabia is far too important when it comes to our strategy in the Middle East. It isn’t pretty, but that’s where we are right now. It does no good to hide our heads in the desert sand and pretend otherwise.
If Trump’s critics wanted to embrace the ethical, moral, blanket honesty that they’re accusing the president of lacking, they would first admit that the U.S. has been playing this game with Saudi Arabia for a long time. This is a country with an atrocious record when it comes to human rights, a virtually nonexistent approach to democracy, and a disturbing relationship with Islamic terrorism, including the hijackers who pulled off the 9/11 attacks. We’ve continued to placate them and call them our allies despite all of these troubling concerns. And we’ve continued to do in the wake of the Yemeni war, which has taken the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.
In some ways, Saudi Arabia is every bit as bad for the world as other rogue dictatorships the U.S. regularly condemns. But a friendship with the royal family, despite these problems, is worth it. It provides our troops a base where we most desperately need it. It provides us a powerful ally in our cold war with Iran. It gives us a middle ground from which we can, potentially, bring the two sides together in Israel. And, let’s be frank, they have a lot of oil that plays an important role in our worldwide energy strategy.
Like we said, it’s not a pretty situation. It doesn’t square neatly with the America: Freedom Police reputation we like to give ourselves when we’re feeling particularly patriotic. But…it is what it is. And like Trump said, it would be a catastrophic mistake to throw it all away over one small incident, as disgusting as that incident might be.