Kim Jong-un, Mohammed bin Salman, and Donald Trump.
Photo illustration by Slate Photos by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images and Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty Images.
In both big-budget movies and reality, one of the “core tenets” of U.S. foreign policy has long been that the American government will make its best military and diplomatic efforts to protect and rescue Americans who are in danger abroad. Or at least, that was a core tenet until the Donald Trump presidency, during which you apparently can kill any American anywhere in the world so long as you have a relationship of mutual butt-kissing and/or sketchy business entanglements with Trump or his family.
This innovative new approach was in the news again Tuesday morning because of the administration’s ongoing lack of interest in formally asserting that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last October—or in responding to the Saudis’ gruesome hit on Khashoggi in any substantive way at all. (Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, but he lived in Virginia, worked for the U.S-owned Post, had three children who are U.S. citizens, and had reportedly applied to become a permanent U.S. resident.) The administration briefed senators Monday on its so-called investigation into the killing, and its presentation was apparently so worthless that even Republicans (who already passed a resolution last December officially declaring bin Salman “responsible” for the murder, a claim that is backed up by U.S. intelligence assessments and publicly reported evidence) were willing to say so on the record. From the Hill:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the panel, told reporters that it was “a complete waste of time.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added that he heard nothing that changed his mind about the killing. … Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that the briefing was “frustrating” for many members of the panel.
The Repulican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Idaho’s Jim Risch, said in a short statement that the Senate’s investigation into whether Saudi individuals should face human rights sanctions for their roles in Khashoggi’s murder was ongoing and asserted, in unusually blunt language, that “we will not let it go.”
Not unrelatedly, House of Representatives investigators released a report recently about the Trump administration’s extensive efforts to implement a plan that would involve the Saudi government making a lucrative nuclear-technology purchase from a company with ties to Jared Kushner and Trump inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack. And that’s only one of several ongoing stories that involve actual or proposed Saudi business relationships with individuals close to Trump.
Meanwhile, during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam last week, Trump said the following about Otto Warmbier, a Virginia college student who was arrested in North Korea in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a poster at a hotel, then returned to the U.S. in 2017 in such dire medical condition that he died six days later:
I don’t believe [Kim] would have allowed that to happen. It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was—I don’t believe he knew about it. … He felt badly about it. He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And you’ve got a lot of people, big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps you have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things. [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Warmbier’s arrest was an international news story, and the idea that Kim and the North Korean regime had anything less than total control over the conditions of his incarceration is far-fetched. Trump, though, has said that he “fell in love” (!) with Kim after the leader wrote him flattering letters related to their summit meetings—meetings for which Trump hopes to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He has also apparently discussed North Korea’s potential as a site for beachfront resort developments with Kim.
One of the relatively under-the-radar claims that Trump made at his notorious July 2018 Helsinki press conference with Vladimir Putin was that he would be happy to let Russian operatives into America to engage in the “questioning” of U.S. intelligence officials who concluded that the Russian government was responsible for the death of a whistleblower in an embezzlement case. Fortunately, that plan did not go anywhere. At the moment, though, there is still a U.S. citizen named Walid Fitaihi being detained—and allegedly tortured—in Saudi Arabia for unclear reasons. Hopefully, someone in the administration will persuade Trump to put America first when it comes to Fitaihi’s case. But it doesn’t seem likely, does it?
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