To no one’s surprise, Donald Trump has sided with Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. All that Trump required was a denial by bin Salman and his father the king to feel that the there was sufficient uncertainty to prevent his taking any meaningful steps. Of course, in these days, there is no amount of evidence that can be produced that he could not dismiss by saying that it was fake news, so this was a foregone conclusion.
But his statement has provoked a storm of outrage from the world of Washington pundits and media and even some Republican politicians. That is good. But what is laughable is the attitude of these people that Trump’s willingness to overlook and forgive the brutal actions of dictators like bin Salman as long as they are aligned with US interests is unprecedented and a completely betrayal US values. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Trump is in fact acting perfectly consistently with his predecessors but the chattering classes cannot accept this without acknowledging their own complicity in such actions.
The reaction was so intense because the fairy tale about the U.S. standing up for freedom and human rights in the world is one of the most pervasive and powerful prongs of western propaganda, the one relied upon by U.S. political and media elites to convince not just the U.S. population but also themselves of their own righteousness, even as they spend decades lavishing the world’s worst tyrants and despots with weapons, money, intelligence and diplomatic protection to carry out atrocities of historic proportions.
After all, if you have worked in high-level foreign policy positions in Washington, or at the think thanks and academic institutions that support those policies, or in the corporate media outlets that venerate those who rise to the top of those precincts (and which increasingly hire those security state officials as news analysts), how do you justify to yourself that you’re still a good person even though you arm, prop up, empower and enable the world’s worst monsters, genocides, and tyrannies?
Simple: by pretending that you don’t do any of that, that such acts are contrary to your system of values, that you actually work to oppose rather than protect such atrocities, that you’re a warrior and crusader for democracy, freedom and human rights around the world.
The New York Times Editorial Page, as it so often does, topped the chartswith pretentious, scripted moral outrage. “President Trump confirmed the harshest caricatures drawn by America’s most cynical critics on Tuesday when he portrayed its central objectives in the world as panting after money and narrow self-interest,” bellowed the paper, as though this view of U.S. motives is some sort of jaded fiction invented by America-haters rather than the only honest, rational description of the country’s despot-embracing posture in the world during the lifespan of any human being alive today.
Has the New York Times Editorial Page ever heard of Henry Kissinger?
He goes on to list all the times that Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Donald Rumsfeld, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and others did very similar things with other ruthless and bloody despots, something that media people now ignore as they treat Trump’s actions as uniquely despicable, when it mainly differs is in its specifics.
This episode also exposes one of the great scams of the Trump era. The very same people who have devoted their careers to supporting despotism, empowering tyranny, cheering on atrocities, and justifying U.S. imperialism are masquerading as the exact opposite of what they are in order to pave their path back to power where they can continue to pursue all of the destructive and amoral policies they now so grotesquely pretend to oppose.
If you want to denounce Trump’s indifference to Saudi atrocities on moral, ethical or geo-political grounds – and I find them objectionable on all of those grounds – by all means do so. But pretending that he’s done something that is at odds with U.S. values or the actions of prior leaders or prevailing foreign policy orthodoxies is not just deceitful but destructive.
Meanwhile Jon Schwarz recounts all the times when Trump spoke the truth about US policies at home and abroad. But that was before he was president. After he became president, he pretty much says and does what other presidents have done before him, except that he lies much more brazenly and less skillfully. His pre-presidential truth telling is now ignored by both him and the media and the political classes because of the discomfort it causes to those who were indicted by those words.
Nothing surprising in the Greenwald article.
Excepting the Marshall Plan which was carried out to beat back the socialist and communist parties in Western Europe, I cannot think of any place the USA has encouraged democracy or human rights though there may be a couple I am missing.
Trump’s problem is that he lies but cannot do unctuousness or false sincerity. If his handlers could teach him this, he would be away.
Just brainstorming here but it deems to me there are three narratives:
1) Authoritarians: It is all about power and how much you have. You are either a player, or you are ‘little people’. The dynamic is might be expressed in the old saying that ‘When the elephants fight; it is the grass that gets trampled. Khashoggi was a pawn operating by a different faction and he was removed, or trampled in the fight between major forces. Sad, but it happens. The details are largely unimportant. The major players are not required to even notice his passing and they certainly aren’t required to stop doing what they do. Laws are for little people.
2) Plutocrats and Randians: It is all bout money and freedom. Specifically the freedom of money to be moved and operate free of controls and limits. Khashoggi was saying hurtful things about major moneyed interests. It was n’t the hurt that made them act. It was the embarrassment that might have cause people less concerned with true freedom, the freedom of money, to impose limits and laws that might narrow freedoms. Khashoggi refused to be silent and so he had to silenced. To protect freedom.
Stopping the arms deals because of the unfortunate fate of Khashoggi would violate the right of money to flow. Allowing a dead man to enjoy a victory over freedom he could not hope to enjoy alive.
3) An unsure and shaky system of laws, treaties and agreements that seeks to limit the power and control held by non-representative majorities. Khashoggi was attempting to bringing to light the various depredations of power, authority and monied interests. He was doing the job of a journalists and working for international rules of civil rights. He did not believe in the right of power or money and he took considerable risks to do his job. He was killed because he embarrassed the wrong people. His death was an insult to anyone, or any nation, playing lip service to civil rights and internationally observed human rights. This hypocrisy highlighted by this act is, itself, the driving force for reform and institution of new laws and limits to be placed upon power and money.
Note that the first two categories are not in any great conflict. The first is more of a small-bore version of the second. The fight is between the rights of money to act free of any controls and individual rights to enjoy freedom constrained only to the extent they trod upon other individuals.
Conceptually it is basic human rights combined with the FDRs four freedoms. Plus or minus. But, so far, limited mainly because the people pushing this case lack money, and/or power. The money and power folks have a near monopoly on ‘rough men’ to visit pain, if not actual death, upon people who violate the norms. It is a long standing, and so far unsolved, conundrum.