Morality is such an encumbrance. Once any shame is shed, dilemmas dissolve; everything gets so much easier. Take the quandary presented by Saudi Arabia. For decades, U.S. presidents have resorted to extreme realpolitik in order to treat the Saudis as a valued ally—a status bestowed on the sheikhs by the billions of barrels of oil under their sands, and the broad influence their enormous wealth has purchased. The oilmen of the Bush family treated the Saudis like cousins, even after 9/11; President Obama irritated the Saudis with talk of human rights and democracy, but in the end backed their brutal war against Yemen and offered to sell them $115 billion in arms. President Trump has taken realpolitik to a new level. Virtually no one believes the Saudi royals’ risible claim that they didn’t know about the 15-member Saudi hit team that murdered and dismembered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the president says it’s possible “rogue killers” committed this atrocity. “The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” Trump helpfully explained. (See Main Stories.)
Problem solved. Punishing the Saudis for kidnapping and executing a journalist living and working in the U.S. would be highly inconvenient. Trump has sold millions of dollars of real estate and hotel rentals to the Saudis, wants the U.S. to sell them billions more in weapons, and needs their help (and their oil) in his struggle to subdue Iran. If King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman insist they had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s regrettable demise, why quibble? Trump’s eagerness to swallow the Saudi cover story prompted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to say this week: “At some point, an amoral foreign policy becomes an immoral foreign policy.” Just think, though, how many “great deals” we can cut with Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, and other murderous tyrants if we dispense with morality and human rights entirely.