President Trump’s decision to continue backing the Saudi regime even after it had Jamal Khashoggi murdered has brought criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. That’s to be expected. However, the criticism I’ve seen so far is superficial and, in at least one case, dishonest.
Let’s begin with the dishonest criticism. The Committee to Protect Journalists said this:
If you boil the White House statement down to its essence, President Trump has just asserted that if you do enough business with the U.S., you are free to murder journalists. That’s an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world.
That’s inaccurate. The White House statement cited U.S. several interests in support of its decision, not just the business the Saudis do with America. A committee to protect journalists should have done a better job of journalism.
Now let’s turn to the superficial criticism. Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted:
Our foreign policy must be about promoting our national interests.
It is in our natl interest to defend human rights.
HR violations lead to mass migration, help extremism flourish & often result in new governments hostile towards the U.S. because we supported their oppressors.
I agree that defending human rights is one of our national interests. However, it should be balanced with our other national interests, especially our interest in opposing bitter enemies like Iran. That’s what President Trump has done.
It’s true that human rights violations can lead to mass migration and increased extremism. And, yes, sometimes they can result in new governments that resent us for having supported an oppressive predecessor.
However, these concerns have very little applicability to Khashoggi’s case. The murder of one dissident (or even several) isn’t going to spark mass migration the way Assad’s mass murder in Syria has. Nor is it likely to fuel extremism, especially given Khashoggi’s role in past authoritarian Saudi governments.
As for producing a hostile regime, the question is what type of future Saudi regime. If a radical regime takes over one day, its grievances with America will be so numerous and deeply felt that the murder of Khashoggi will be irrelevant. So too if, against all odds, true democrats come to power.
If the authoritarian faction with which Khashoggi was aligned comes to power, his execution may have some relevance. But even in that scenario, the U.S. will either be able make or deal with that regime based on mutual interests or it won’t. The new ruling faction is unlikely to let sentimental feelings about Khashoggi stand in the way.
The Washington Post is, of course, outraged over Trump’s decision. Its publisher says:
President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so.
For whom? As discussed above, the decision is unlikely to make it a more dangerous place for the United States.
In an editorial, the Post concludes that the alternative to the U.S. holding the current Saudi regime accountable for killing Khashoggi is “a world where dictators know they can murder their critics and suffer no consequences.”
The Saudi regime likely will suffer some relatively minor consequences. A world in which dictators suffer no major consequences for murdering critics is the world as it is and has always been.
We’re creeping towards a world in which dictators sometimes suffer major consequences for mass murder. A world in which the murder of one critic causes another nation to reverse its national security policy and inflict economic damage on itself is another matter.
There is no moral imperative that the U.S. try to usher in such a world, and the promotion of American interests militates against doing so in this case.