The government of Saudi Arabia is deliberately starving the Middle East’s poorest country. One recent estimate suggests that 85,000 children under 5 years old have died from malnutrition as a result of Riyah’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war. If the Saudi’s bombing and blockade continues, Yemen is poised to collapse into the worst famine humanity has seen in 100 years, according to the U.N.
The United States bears much of the responsibility for all of this: Our nation’s steadfast commitment to an alliance with the Saudis has led America to support Riyadh’s monstrous campaign by supplying it with weapons, logistical support, and midair refueling services for Saudi fighter planes. The U.S. has no real interest in the outcome of Yemen’s civil war — whether that impoverished country is ruled by Shia rebels or a Saudi client is of a little consequence to a global superpower based in the Western hemisphere. On the other hand, allowing the Saudis to drop American-made bombs on school buses — and to commit other crimes against humanity with our visible assistance — significantly increases the risk of terroristic blowback against the U.S.
Meanwhile, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the murder and dismemberment of a U.S. resident last month, according to the CIA. To state the obvious: The United States has no national interest in helping Islamist theocracies murder journalists who live here. On the other hand, abetting such a crime diminishes America’s (already profoundly suspect) moral authority on the world stage, and gives a green light to authoritarian rulers the world over to crack down on dissent within their borders.
And yet, this Thanksgiving, Donald Trump is thankful for the House of Saud.
Many commentators have criticized the vulgar materialism that runs through Trump’s defenses of the Saudis — his insistence that the pursuit of cheap oil and lucrative arms deals are more important than, say, preventing 85,000 Yemeni children dying in protracted agony. But, in addition to being hideously amoral, the implicit argument of the president’s tweet is also incoherent. The recent decline in oil prices is not a display of Saudi magnanimity, but of declining investor confidence in the prospects for medium-term economic growth. Granted, Riyadh could, theoretically, engineer a spike in global oil prices by cutting off supply. But economic self-interest prohibits it from doing so.
Alas, such self-interest also, ostensibly, prohibits Trump from acknowledging these facts.