During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump lamented the corrupting influence of foreign money on American foreign policy, in general — and America’s posture toward the Saudis, in particular. The mogul derided Hillary Clinton for running “the State Department like her own personal hedge fund [by] doing favors for oppressive regimes,” and allowing her foundation to accept “tens of millions of dollars” from “countries that treat women horribly … and countries that kill gays.” Meanwhile, the GOP candidate suggested, multiple times, that the D.C. Establishment secretly knew Saudi Arabia had orchestrated the September 11 attacks.
“Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents,” Trump told Fox & Friends. Later, he promised supporters that if he won, “you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center, ’cause they have papers in there that are very secret. You may find it’s the Saudis, okay? But you will find out.”
In the two-and-a-half years since Trump made these remarks, his views on the U.S.–Saudi alliance have shifted ever so slightly. Now, the president no longer believes that the Saudis’ “investments” in D.C. have corrupted the American political class and ensnared the U.S. into an alliance with a totalitarian Islamist regime that’s complicit in thousands of American deaths — but rather, that the Saudis’ investments in D.C. are so important to the American economy, the U.S. can’t afford to hold them accountable for murdering and dismembering an American journalist:
When President Donald Trump explained over the past two weeks why he was reluctant to damage the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he kept coming back to one reason: jobs.
“I don’t want to hurt jobs,” Trump said in an interview with 60 Minutes that aired last weekend, explaining that there are “other ways of punishing.”
“Who are we hurting? It’s 500,000 jobs,” he told Fox Business on Wednesday.
“I’d rather keep the million jobs, and I’d find another solution,” he said at a defense roundtable in Arizona on Friday.
Trump’s (ever-increasing) estimate of the number of Americans whose jobs depend on the Saudi alliance is, of course, ludicrous. Yes, American arms manufacturers do make a lot money off meeting Riyadh’s (insatiable) demand for bombs to drop on school buses. No, Raytheon will not be forced to lay off 1 million workers if the U.S. cuts off arms sales to the kingdom. (There are plenty of other brutal autocracies that have a taste for American weaponry.)
But the president isn’t just baldly lying about the quantity of jobs of Saudi investment supports — he’s also tacitly misleading the public about the kind of jobs that outrage over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has put in jeopardy.
Judging by Trump’s rhetoric, you’d think that there were countless Rust Belt towns whose only source of stable employment was a Saudi-funded think tank. In his populist, “America first” framing, D.C. elites might have the privilege of clutching their pearls at the brutal murder of an American resident — but out in the heartland, millions of working-class policy analysts and lobbyists can’t afford to indulge the swamp’s moral vanity. After all, if the Center for Strategic Studies shutters its Youngstown division, how will they support their families? Fabricating an American national interest in maintaining Riyadh’s regional hegemony is all they know!
In some respects, Trump’s defense of the Saudi alliance is more honest than that of his Republican allies. The geopolitical case for obsequiousness toward the Saudis has made little sense since (at least) the end of the Cold War. The most coherent argument for pretending that the Saudi leadership did not order Jamal Khashoggi’s death is, probably, that doing so would threaten American jobs. It’s just that the jobs at stake are concentrated in the D.C.-based, “doing favors for oppressive regimes” industry.