Reacting to President Trump’s disappointing, though unsurprising, pat on the back response, to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Paul Krugman, an economist and former colleague of Jamal passionately argued that, “we’re supposed to be a moral beacon to the world, not a mercenary nation willing to abandon its principles if the money is good”. In fact, Richard N. Haass, chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations went a bit further in his critique of the White house’s gerrymandering by presupposing that “this will reinforce the sense around the world that this is a different America, that we’ve become like everybody else. We, too, are running a foreign policy not based on principles or values”. Much as I agree with Mr. Krugman and Richard Haass that there must be consequences for such barbaric and ignominious behaviour by the Saudis – to murder in cold blood, an American resident on a foreign soil, I find their argument of a morally upright America, quite faulty, if not misleading.
America’s foreign policy in the last century has never been driven by a sense of moral obligation, as Mr. Krugman would have us think, but by a ruthless pursuit of its own national interests – mind you, America has about 800 military bases and roughly 200,000 troops abroad, which costs them about a $100 billion dollars annually to maintain. National interest was why America strongly supported African dictators like Joseph Mobutu of Congo, to counter the Soviets’ growing influence in Africa. It further explains why Washington forced a regime change in Libya (under President Obama), leaving a hitherto wealthy nation in ruins with obvious cataclysmic consequences on several other African nations, particularly in the Sahel. What kind of morally upright nation would provide weaponry, intelligence and logistical support for a war in Yemen that has caused the death of thousands of people, with a few millions at the brink of starvation?
…Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, confidently asserted that “the economic and strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was too important to be derailed by an international uproar over the Saudis killing of a dissident journalist”.
The harsh reality is that the White House cannot afford to cut ties with the Saudis for both economic and geopolitical reasons. On the economic front, the Saudis will be spending over $400 billion in the U.S. economy over the next decade. Saudi Arabia, I must add, also has the third highest defence budget in the world, only after the United States and China. Therefore, stopping the arms deal with the Saudi is not just a matter of economics, but that of geo-politics, as those billions of dollars would find its way into Kremlin and further embolden Putin. Little wonder why Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, confidently asserted that “the economic and strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was too important to be derailed by an international uproar over the Saudis killing of a dissident journalist”.
Furthermore, when President Trump made the silly decision to pull out of the multi-country Iran nuclear deal, even after several attempts from strong European allies like France and Germany, to convince him otherwise, the U.S. put itself in a position where it must rely on the Saudis to pump out 10 million barrels of oil daily to make up for the lost access to Iranian oil, without which the cost of energy would be more than inconveniencing to U.S. manufacturers and car users. The United States also needs a strong ally in the Middle East to counter Iranian aggression in the region and to ensure the continuous protection of Israel – which is where Riyadh becomes a strategic imperative.
So, it really doesn’t matter much that Mohammed Bin Salam led a blockade in Qatar or that he joked about kidnapping Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, Washington has very little alternative to Riyadh, as long as they keep pumping petro-dollars into the U.S. economy. This is however not about President Trump, but the fact is that his predecessors have caused a lot more damage in the Middle East with a poorly thought out foreign policy – the only difference being that they were a lot more ‘poetic’ in their engagements than Trump has been.
Ayodele Adio, a communication strategist, writes from Lagos.