President Donald Trump seems to believe that money is the magic solution to every diplomatic problem, whether the issue is Saudi Arabia's egregious human rights violations or reaching a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Is there no issue where the U.S. president would draw a line in defense of decency and integrity?
If Trump can't muster a moral stand for himself, then the Senate should step in to serve as the president's surrogate conscience. Last week, several Republican senators took such a stand, joining Democrats in rejecting a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Sadly, Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley were not among them.
Americans must never forget that the Saudi government willfully abducted, executed and dismembered Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October. The killers and those involved in the cover-up included close associates of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
"The circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi's death have led to numerous theories and allegations, but none alters the responsibility of the Saudi Arabia State," says a report last week by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings. "Saudi state agents, 15 of them, acted under cover of their official status and used state means to execute Mr. Khashoggi."
The report calls for renewed investigation to determine the crown prince's role. Khashoggi's murder "was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong defender of Trump who nevertheless voted against the arms sale, was blunt about the Saudi crown prince's role. "He did it. It wouldn't have happened without him." Graham added: "There's no amount of oil coming out of Saudi Arabia and there's no threat from Iran that will get me to back off."
But Trump, asked by NBC on Sunday where his priorities lie when it comes to justice or selling arms to the Saudis, responded: "Take their money. ... We're going to protect Saudi Arabia. Look, Saudi Arabia is buying $400 billion worth of things for us. That's a very good thing."
Similarly, Trump seems to think that seven decades of enmity between Palestinians and Israelis can be solved by throwing money at the Palestinians. His administration unveiled a plan to raise more than $50 billion for Palestinian and neighboring Arab countries' development assistance.
The plan completely sidesteps the major territorial and political issues dividing the two sides. Palestinian leaders, unsurprisingly, rejected it for what it is: an attempt to buy them off.
They, like most people, know where to draw the line between right and wrong. Trump cheated on his wife with a porn star and says he would gladly accept help from Russian election meddlers. Selling arms to Saudi murderers? "Take their money" says it all about his moral compass.
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