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Trump's Foreign Policy: Do Whatever You Want As Long As You Shop With Us

Nov 22, 2018 | Francis Tawiah
Trump's self interest foreign policy with Saudi Arabia
Trump's self interest foreign policy with Saudi Arabia

Donald Trump's blank check for Saudi Arabia causes horror. The US President has always done such a foreign policy, in the case of Khashoggi that is particularly clear.

In Washington, one is horrified. Even many party friends resent Donald Trump's handling of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "The White House is becoming a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia," says the Senate's top foreign minister, Republican Bob Corker.

You just have to "keep the president in front of enough money", you are already scared off in a murder, laments the head of the Washington Post, Fred Ryan.

From a somewhat different perspective, one can even welcome Trump's admission to Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Because the US President makes clear as never, with what understanding he pursues foreign policy. So black on white, the Trump method for the world was not yet read.

Trump does not allow himself to be guided on the international stage by the insights of his own government apparatus and certainly not by values such as human rights, but by his narrowly defined interests, sensitivities and short-term advantages.

Findings that run counter to these interests are put into perspective by the US president or he casts doubt. He who seems useful to him, whose word has more weight than that of his own institutions. He who praises him, he believes even better.

It is the same attitude that characterizes Trump's dealings with Russia or with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un and partly with how he deals with Germany and the European Union. It consists of the following three elements:

1- Trump sows doubt
On the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Trump says: "It may be that the Crown Prince was aware of this tragic event - maybe he had them, maybe he did not have them!" Well possible, so Trump, that "you will never know all the facts about the murder". That his own secret service, the CIA, came to the conclusion that Bin Salman himself ordered the murder: he does not care.

He also casts doubt on the integrity of Khashoggi when he mentions that he was considered a "public enemy" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood - even though the Saudis have never publicly said such a thing.

Trump hides behind the denial of the Saudi king and crown prince, who had "energetically denied" an entanglement. This is reminiscent of Trump's defense in dealing with Russia's interference in the US election. Trump keeps saying that Putin "denied" this interference to him. Trump uses the denial to refute the verdict of the US security authorities, according to which Putin directly ordered the influence in favor of Trump.

When using it, the testimony of other rulers is more important to him than the assessments of his own government apparatus. No matter how incredible the denials are.

2- Trump relativizes when it comes to morality

Donald Trump's statement is long and broad about what he considers to be the real culprit of Iran, even though Tehran has nothing to do with the Khashoggi case. Because he wants to keep the Saudis as close allies, he points to others. So he tries to relativize their atrocities. To put into perspective the significance of Riyadh's human rights abuses, Trump began with this sentence: "The world is a dangerous place". A sentence that has been parroting his foreign minister and the opinion makers of Fox News in many variants since Tuesday.

This is the moral relativization that can also be observed in Trump's dealings with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. Asked about Putin's responsibility for contract killings, Trump once said the US is not without blemish. Asked about the brutal dictatorship of the North Korean dictator, Trump repeatedly said similar sentences. When an interviewer interviewed him about Kim's human rights record, Trump said, "I could enumerate a lot of countries where bad things happened."

This is Trump's radical rejection of a moral superiority, which actually belongs to the self-understanding of the United States. It serves to be unfairly silent when its interests are threatened.

3- Trump sees only short-term benefits
Trump makes it very clear: He judges friend and foe with whom short-term benefits arise. Riad helps to stabilize the price of oil and buys many US weapons (though the volume is significantly lower than Trump claims). So Trump says, "If we foolishly dissolve these treaties, Russia and China would benefit enormously."

In the trade dispute with allies in Europe, Trump also points out short-term benefits over the long-term value of intact alliances. The main thing is that less German cars are coming to the US soon!

Is all this just consistent realpolitik? After all, world politics is always about asserting one's own interests. That would be the benevolent interpretation that Trump would bring to a new honesty in international relations. He himself tries to mislead this reading by saying that this is his America First policy.

Only a few would deny that it is always about their own interests. What is striking in this context, however, is how closely Trump's American interests are concentrated on weapon deals and oil prices and that something like the promotion of human rights is no longer part of it.

Instructions for Trump
Since Trump makes it clear to everyone what criteria he uses for foreign policy, his statement on the Khashoggi case is potentially a momentous document. Now in black and white, Trump's rivals in world politics have it.

Despots and autocrats know at least now: In case of doubt, the US president is all about jobs and dollars. Anyone who personally trumps Trump and promises good business may switch with critics and oppositionists as it pleases, without having to fear too severe consequences. He may even assassinate and dismember her in a consulate.

Whether you think it's good or bad, the United States is still setting the standard for a large part of the world. The incumbent president has now sent this message: Do what you want as long as you shop with us.

Francis Tawiah (Duisburg - Germany)

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