In J.C. Duffy’s October 20 comic panel “The Fusco Brothers,” a waitress asks a brother, “How did you get hold of a kid’s menu?” Answer: “You’d be surprised how easy it is to overpower a 10-year-old.” There went the lame Saudi excuse about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudis first denied Khashoggi was murdered. Then they claimed he got into a fistfight and died from a chokehold. A 60-year-old man duking it out with 15 security men? The excuse was laughable—except to Donald Trump. But then, Trump thought a 400-lb. guy lying in his bed may have hacked Democratic National Committee emails preceding the 2016 election. Finally, the Saudis conceded the murder—a rogue operation—was premeditated.
Still, what’s wrong with violence against journalists? At a Montana rally, Trump supported Representative Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed journalist Ben Jacobs in May 2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.“ Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy.”
Yesterday morning, Trump tweeted about pipe bombs sent to the Clintons, Barack Obama, others and CNN: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.” There’s a reason for pipe bombs. Maybe the suspect arrested this morning, Cesar Sayoc Jr., will enlighten us.
Re Khashoggi, Trump was not required to jump to conclusions and demand the ouster of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan (MBS), Saudi’s de facto ruler. But he didhave to publiclyproject America’s concern about the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And mean it.
Trump hedged. So did investment managers who attended MBS’ three-day global investment conference in Riyadh. Some prominent Americans bowed out. They included treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin (who nonetheless went to Riyadh), the CEOs of Blackstone Group, JPMorgan Chase, and American, British and Dutch officials. Attendees remained hungry to do business. Many also seemed embarrassed. Alan Rappeport wrote in The New York Times (October 23): “Bankers kept their name tags obscured behind ties.”
But not too embarrassed. According to Rappeport, Tally Zingher, chief executive of Dawsat, a healthcare start-up, “considered not attending, but decided that she was not prominent enough to make a statement by skipping the conference.” Michael Slater of Northern Trust (disclosure: I wrote marketing pieces for Northern Trust years ago), said of the murder, “It’s just noise to me. The people I need to see are here, and that’s what I care about.” Deals made amounted to tens of billions of dollars.
The Khashoggi murder also seems to be noise to Trump. While acknowledging a serious cover-up, he refrains from halting arms sales of $110 billion to the Kingdom and withdrawing our support from its civilian-targeting war in Yemen. At stake: security (it’s against Iranian proxies), corporate profits (political support) and jobs (votes). To Trump, now a self-proclaimed “nationalist” with its dog-whistle implications, American interests come down to money. That includes blood money.
The world can be nasty. Accordingly, Washington often allies with nations of questionable—or horrible—political and human rights records. But presidents engaged in realpolitik still must advocate principles of law and decency and push nations to achieve them. Otherwise, like Lady Macbeth, they’ll never clean the blood off their hands—and ours.
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