Streetwise Professor

November 21, 2018

Yes, But He’s *OUR* Bastard: Trump’s Transactional Realpolitik in Action

Filed under: Energy,Politics — cpirrong @ 1:38 pm

So Franklin Roosevelt* allegedly responded to Sumner Welles’ statement that Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Samoza was a bastard.  Despite Samoza’s odiousness, Roosevelt put up with him because it advanced American interests.

Trump might as well have said the same about Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia yesterday.  Despite the hue-and-cry over the Khashoggi murder, Trump made it clear that he has decided that US interests are best served by sticking with our bastards in Riyadh, rather than engaging in moralistic virtue signaling.

As I wrote before, there are no good guys in the Middle East generally, and KSA in particular.  Since there are no George Washingtons waiting in the wings to replace MbS, I can say with metaphysical certainty that any replacement would be as bad, or worse, insofar as brutality is concerned.  More to the point, it is almost as certain that any replacement would be less supportive of US interests that MbS.  This is particularly true now, given the leverage that the murder has given Trump.

So our choice is: (a) a thug who has largely acted commensurately with American interests, and who has mitigated KSA’s longstanding hostility to Israel, or (b) a thug who may be far more hostile to American interests.

This is not a hard choice to people who exist in reality.  Which largely excludes most of the political and media class.

Further, will those who beat their chests in indignation please specify what would happen the day after the US destabilizes the Saudi regime?  After all, the US record in intervening in Middle East regimes is so great, right?  It always works out swell, no?

And as horrible as the Khashoggi murder was, let’s see things for what they are.  Contrary to his latter-day pose as a crusader for reform, he was in effect a middling character in Game of Thrones who was on the losing side in an internal regime struggle.  You can guarantee had his side prevailed, someone on the other side would have met a grisly death too.  The main remarkable thing about Khashoggi’s death is we know about it.  Pretty sure that there are a lot we don’t know about, and wouldn’t know about, regardless of which of the zillion princes wound up on top.

A friend remarked that maybe there are some princes in KSA who would not act as brutally as MbS were they in charge.   To which I replied: probably so, but immaterial.  Any such softer figure would not prevail in the internecine struggle for power.

Trump’s remarks and the underlying policy choice reflected his transactional approach.  MbS is someone he can deal with.  He has negotiating leverage.  He has used it.  Hence the boasts about lower oil prices, which has spurred people who never gave a crap about the US oil industry before to clutch their pearls about the impact of this on US oil companies, because, well, they have to find a way to criticize Trump.

The most remarkable thing about Trump is that in contrast to Roosevelt, who justified siding with Samoza in private, Trump said he was standing by our Saudi bastard in public.  This demonstrates another way in which he differs from conventional politicians.  Yes, he lies and bullshits repeatedly, but he also tells blunt truths that most politicians would conceal, or wrap in vaporous clouds of hypocrisy.  That’s kind of refreshing, actually.

*This remark is also attributed to Truman.

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