Jamal Khashoggi (Source: Flickr/The Project on Middle East Democracy)

President Trump should demand answers regarding the disappearance of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. This time, moral imperative should determine US-Saudi Arabia relations. 

Donald Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been controversial after he brokered a $350bn arms deal with the notorious kingdom in 2017, one of the largest arms sales in US history. 

Trump justified this deal by pointing to the alleged economic and political benefits for the U.S. The economic effects are simple enough, this is a very large deal for the U.S. arms-production industry and will certainly help job creation. The political benefits, however, are less clear-cut. Trump argues that this deal helps substantiate the creation of an “Arab NATO”, a military alliance focused at keeping Iran under check and helping the U.S. gain a foothold in the Middle East. 

While President Trump reassures the American public that relations with Saudi Arabia are “excellent”, there is growing concern about Saudi Arabia’s human rights track record. When pressed on the U.S.’s response to these very serious allegations, Trump was fairly dismissive, though he did indicate that he believed Turkish allegations were true. 

He commented: “We’re looking at it very strongly. We’ll be having a report out soon. We’re working with Turkey, we’re working with Saudi Arabia. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that it happened. Maybe we will be pleasantly surprised but somehow I tend to doubt it. And we take it very seriously.”

Interestingly, Trump then went on to point out that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, implying that this was thereby not a particularly pertinent issue to the U.S. He said, “well it’s not our country. It’s in Turkey, and it’s not a citizen, as I understand it.” 

Given the U.S.’s historically strong stance on human rights and the protection of democratic ideals, it is interesting that Trump’s comments, at least to date, have been so passive regarding human rights violations of countries he considers ‘allies’, or rather, ‘assets’. 

It’s time the President set aside the economic analysis lens and look beyond simply which decisions will make the most money, but which decisions will have the most positive impact on people, not just Americans. 

As the case unfolds further, it’ll be pertinent to monitor President Trump’s reactions and comments on the matter. This can be of definitive importance regarding Trump’s foreign policy decisions and may set a precedent for the years to come. 

If Trump is to take Saudi Arabia’s side and believe that they were not guilty of murdering one of their own citizens, who was also a U.S. resident, Trump is saying that his pragmatism is willing to overlook matters of imperative moral implication. He is essentially saying he places economic and military success over successes of democracy. 

He would also be proving how hypocritical he is – given many of the same criticisms he throws at countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia is guilty of, but one country he considers an enemy and the other more an ally, which is a bias that is difficult to overlook. Both countries have a terrible history of treating their own people with no respect, violating human rights laws, and being undiplomatic. Of course, the new crown prince has suggested he is more liberal, but his policies and actions suggest otherwise. 

However, if he is to side with Turkey and depending on how the investigation unfolds, impose harsh repercussions on Saudi Arabia for their complete disrespect for human rights, then he will demonstrate that he does have some strength as a leader. Sacrificing an economic deal as large as this would be a big forfeit for Trump, but it will show that he is capable of making the right decision when the time comes.

Nevertheless, given Trump’s continued support for Russia and Putin despite harrowing accusations and evidence of wrongdoings, whether Trump will take the right path is probably not likely.