Trump Honors Saudi Family Police State as His Government Ideal
Addressing the Sunni Summit, a motley host of countries with little freedom, democracy, justice, or other human rights, President Trump might well have wished he could just begin by saying, “Greetings, my fellow dictators.…” The circumstance was not so auspicious for America’s would-be strongman. Unlike the autocrats of Egypt and Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, President Trump’s authority remains shaky, his control of the emerging American police state insecure, his future somewhat uncertain. No wonder he was “exhausted” just two days into his first foreign trip as president, the same day his former national security advisor decided to plead the Fifth—General Michael Flynn, the same guy Trump apparently tried to protect from an FBI investigation, chose to refuse to testify before the Senate rather than risk incriminating himself in criminal activity. It’s enough for a man to send his daughter out to speak for him, which is what the president did, at an event intended to promote the use of social media for counter-terrorism, a police state activity if there ever was one.
The Trump family must envy the Saudi family business, with its own oil-rich, dissent-free nation, where the preposterously rich royal family is above the law, but the justice system sends unlucky gang rape victims to prison, but not before giving them 200 lashes. Saudi treatment of women makes Trump’s treatment of Melania look almost polite. In an international situation where saying anything honest is out of the question for any but the most courageous speakers, our American president instead symbolically bows obsequiously and begins by thanking “the magnificent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting today’s summit. I am honored to be received by such gracious hosts. I have always heard about the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens, but words do not do justice to the grandeur of this remarkable place and the incredible hospitality you have shown us from the moment we arrived.” The Trump Traveling Carnival’s big achievement during its two-day performance in Riyadh was a further grand distortion of an already tortured reality in a region where the only country considered free is Tunisia (Freedom House ranks all the Middle East countries as not free, except for “partly free” Israel and Turkey, which gives you some idea of the low standard for freedom at work). Standing out among the non-stop carny acts of the Trump road show was the president’s flat-out commitment of the United States to take sides in the centuries old Islamic civil war. This makes little sense for a “Christian” country, but at least it is coming in on the side of the Sunnis, who outnumber the Shi’ites roughly nine to one. The president even got some of the Sunni dictatorships to sign a memorandum of agreement to help fight terrorism, which sounds like it might make sense, but makes no sense at all for all kinds of reasons, including: (1) terrorism has been fueled for decades by the Saudis globally promoting Wahhabism, a radically conservative form of Sunni Islam that considers all other Islamic practitioners heathens; (2) most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and the Saudis spent untold amounts of money lobbying Washington to keep reports of Saudi involvement secret and to prevent victims from suing the Saudi government; and (3) the Saudis and other Gulf states have played both sides of the terrorist/ISIS wars for years now.
But the U.S. taking the Sunni side in the Islam war makes a kind of perverse sense in that it pits the U.S. against Iran, although there’s no decent reason to single out Iran in a region of blood-drenched bad actors among whom Iran is far from the worst. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is significantly worse than Iran’s. Iran just elected a new, moderate president with 57 percent of the vote, a result the minority Trump White House yearns for, even though it seems to have benefitted from more electoral interference than the Iran winner. Another level of senselessness is President Trump’s blindly unexamined condemnation of the multinational agreement that virtually all careful observers agree is keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Instead of something resembling reality, the U.S. is now basing its policy on the mad view of Saudi King Salman, “saying the Arab world had no problems with that country [Iran] until its 1979 revolution brought a theocratic government that quickly turned to terrorism and regional ambitions.” Translated: as long as the CIA-supported Shah of Iran ran one of the grimmest police states in the world, the Saudis were happy to exchange torturers with the Iranians. President Trump is dragging the U.S. into bed with thugs and dictators from the Philippines to Russia. And the rationale is that it’s all good for fighting terrorism and promoting trade. Well, the administration did trumpet that $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, claiming in the process that it was even bigger than the $115 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last September. Perhaps the math was thrown off by the glitter of the Saudi gift of $100 million to an Ivanka Trump pet project for the advancement of women, even though the Saudis suppress their women pretty much as well as anyone, without drawing an audible tut-tut from any Trump.
That looks like corruption in plain sight. The arms deal also looks like continued genocide in less plain sight in Yemen. “Above all, America seeks peace—not war,” President Trump told his Saudi audience. Surely they all knew better. More than two years ago, the U.S. encouraged and supported the Saudi coalition of Gulf states to attack Yemen from the air, to bomb defenseless civilian populations, to use cluster bombs and other anti-personnel weapons, to impose a naval blockade, to create conditions of mass hunger and near-starvation, to turn the country into a virtual prison. This action is an ongoing violation of international law, a war of aggression waged with a nexus of U.S.-sponsored and U.S.-supported war crimes that have been impeachable offenses for the American president every day since March 2015, with no end in sight.
Some in Congress have attempted to block previous weapons sales to the Saudis, and maybe some in Congress will do so again. No one is Congress has yet shown any inclination to confront the reality that we are now on our third consecutive president who is a war criminal.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theater, radio, TV, and print journalism. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work.