In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Marco Rubio wrote that Donald Trump’s brand of nationalism is not a creed that subordinates enlightenment values to zero-sum tribalism — as French president Emmanuel Macron had recently suggested. Rather, the Florida senator argued that the president’s nationalistic ethos was rooted in his deep appreciation for America’s “identity as a nation committed to the idea that all people are created equal, with a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
There are more than a few problems with the thesis that Donald Trump only puts “America First” because America does the same for the concept of universal human rights. But an especially conspicuous one is that the president disdains the concept of human rights more than he reveres his fellow Americans.
Or so Trump’s handling of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would suggest. From the moment the Turkish government revealed that Saudi agents had killed a Washington Post columnist — and legal U.S. resident — in Istanbul, the American president made it clear that he viewed the murder as less of a moral atrocity than a PR headache.
Trump’s first response to Turkey’s revelation was to demand that the public give his friends in Riyadh the presumption of innocence. His second was to allow that, if the Saudis did in fact murder and dismember a U.S.-based journalist, “it would not be a positive” — but nevertheless insisted that the American government couldn’t respond too harshly to such an offense because the Saudis are “spending $110 billion on [American] military equipment” (and those arms sales must be protected at all costs).
The president’s third response — after the Saudis admitted that their agents had killed Khashoggi (supposedly, without official authorization) after trying to kidnap him (with official authorization) — was to criticize the murder in strictly tactical terms. “They had a very bad original concept,” Trump said of the Saudi plot, adding that it was “carried out poorly” and “the worst cover-up ever.”
Now, with Khashoggi’s death buried beneath the ruins of a thousand subsequent news cycles, Trump has (reportedly) shifted his focus away from offering Riyadh constructive criticism on its lackluster cover-up, and toward getting Turkish president Recep Erdogan to let bygones be bygones.
More specifically, the president is reportedly trying to persuade Erdogan to forgive the Saudis for murdering a U.S. resident who was critical of their government by helping Erdogan imprison (and potentially kill) a U.S. resident who was critical of the Turkish government.
As NBC News reports:
The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.
Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
… They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulen’s residency status in the U.S. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said.
“At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.
Erdogan has accused Gülen (without hard evidence, in the view of Western intelligence agencies) of masterminding the failed 2016 coup attempt against his government. Last year, Erdogan vowed to behead the “traitors” who had attempted to depose him. So, there is reason to fear that, even though Turkish law does not currently allow for capital punishment, expelling Gülen to Turkey would put the longtime Keystone State resident, and charter-school entrepreneur, in mortal danger.
To review: In order to help an Islamist theocracy get away with kidnapping and executing one American immigrant, Trump is (reportedly) trying to find a legal rationale for letting another Islamist nation imprison (and possibly execute) a different American immigrant.
If this is true, then it seems safe to say, contra Rubio, that Trump is less of an American nationalist who harbors a deep commitment to human rights than an American solipsist who is ready and willing to abet crimes against humanity if he believes that he stands to benefit personally from doing so.