Turkey strutting on the Potomac

Monday, November 26, 2018
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Kathleen Parker

Syndicated Columnist

Strutting isn’t just for turkeys anymore.

We’re reminded of this nearly every day, but Donald Trump outdid himself Thanksgiving Day when a reporter asked the president what he’s most grateful for. In a nutshell, with only a tiny bit of editing: himself. OK, he mentioned his family first but then went on to extol his own virtues.

Of course he did. Thanksgiving, after all, is really about Trump, n’est-ce-pas? One can hardly wait for Christmas when we’ll learn, oh joy, that unto the world a Trump was born.

Meanwhile, we have a few weeks to digest his self-appraisal. Elaborating upon his gratitude, Trump told a press gaggle at Mar-a-Lago: “This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.”

Correct. You wouldn’t believe it.

He also said, “I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country.”

Indeed. (See midterm elections 2018.)

And when it comes to foreign policy and America’s status in the world, not that anyone asked, he said: “ When I see foreign leaders, they say, ‘We cannot believe the difference in strength between the United States now and the United States two years ago.’”

If true, he surely was referring to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to as MBS, and not the nations of NATO, many of which have lost faith in the U.S. since Trump took office.

He can’t have been referring to Germany, which recently canceled arms sales to Saudi Arabia given MBS’ apparent responsibility for last month’s murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. German Chancellor Angela Merkel did the thinkable — cut off all arms sales to Saudi Arabia — while Trump has done the unthinkable: Dismiss the Central Intelligence Agency’s conclusion finding that MBS ordered the Washington Post columnist’s killing and dismemberment.

Give the president credit where due: He tells it like it is, which is that we’re going to pretend the CIA report is wrong and continue as before. Maybe MBS knew about it, maybe he didn’t, says Trump. Sure, and maybe some Mexicans are nice people, maybe not. Yes, sure, sure, that awful slaughter and dismemberment thing was bad, really bad, but let’s not allow an over-there thing interfere with arms sales and, who knows, perhaps some future Trump developments.

Merkel earlier had said Germany would cancel future arms sales pending the investigation into Khashoggi’s death. She has now ended current sales, and Denmark and Finland have followed suit. But the U.S., England and France, as of this writing, failed to take such measures. Obviously, geopolitical considerations are complex, but there are surely other options to suspending arms sales, though such a move by the U.S. would doubtless be welcome in other parts of the Arab world. Yemen comes to mind.

Since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries formed a coalition to combat Yemen’s Houthi insurgency, the civilian cost has been devastating. The situation is beyond dire, with hundreds of thousands dislocated and tens of thousands killed, including nearly a generation of children. The London-based Save the Children organization estimates that 85,000 children may have died of hunger and disease since the conflict began. This is no mere sidebar to U.S. strength, as Trump measures it, but is paramount to his flawed argument that we can’t afford to criticize MBS lest we blow a big, big deal. Apparently, he’d rather implicitly condone the murder of a journalist (and U.S. resident) and turn a blind eye to what some have termed genocide in Yemen, assisted by the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, the White House refuses any suggestion that taking a moral stance is appropriate or necessary. But if strength is what Trump wants to convey, he should do exactly that. He could say that America is committed to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and considers a free press essential to a free society. Therefore, either the arms deal is dead or MBS is no longer our negotiating partner.

Trump might further add that America won’t play a role in a war made worse by the coalition’s involvement - and hold Saudi Arabia to account for any war crimes it has committed. For real strength is about taking a moral hardline even when it hurts. As improbable as these scenarios are, they’d at least give Trump something to strut about.

(Contact Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com.)



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