Donald Trump has dug a moral hole through the middle of America’s foreign policy – and he’s not sorry at all.
The President’s reaction to the apparent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul offers the clearest evidence yet of his turn away from a foreign policy rooted in universal human values.
The crisis is instead showcasing Trump’s radical form of “America First” realpolitik, his promise not to infringe other nations’ sovereignty with lectures on human rights and his trust in the word of autocrats.
In his unrepentant conduct of American foreign policy, Trump is lurching from a path taken by every president since World War II, who all believed to various degrees that American leadership was needed to create a world safe for democracy, open commerce and freedom.
And it will be seen around the world as an unmistakable sign that there is no cost for heinous behavior – after all, it happened days after a US-based journalist for a top American newspaper was apparently killed before his body was reportedly chopped up in an official Saudi government building.
Washington often failed to honor its values – in the carpet bombing of Cambodia, for instance, or its support for Arab dictators. And many in the Middle East saw post-9/11 foreign policy as deeply hypocritical.
But for 70 years, the United States has been a beacon for dissidents in totalitarian nations, acting as a guarantor of democracy and peace in Europe and Northeast Asia. It waged a Cold War to defeat Communism, enhancing its claims of benevolent foreign policy leadership.