It turns out that Trump actually has a triple standard, because he treats attacks by Saudis differently than those from other Muslim nations. On Friday, a Saudi air force officer studying at the Naval Air Station Pensacola shot dead three Americans and wounded eight others. Instead of expressing outrage or vowing vengeance, or even waiting for all the facts to come in, Trump sounded as if he were auditioning for the job of press secretary at the Saudi Embassy. He conveyed King Salman’s “sincere condolences” and his (highly questionable) assurances “that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.” Trump then told reporters that the king “will take care of the families and loved ones of the victims.”
Sorry, but Americans don’t need blood money from the Saudis. What they need are honest answers to figure out what happened and why. It has been reported that the attacker had screened videos of previous mass shootings with fellow Saudi students at Pensacola; that before the attack he had posted online criticism of Israel and of America’s “invasion” of foreign countries, suggesting he may have been inspired by al-Qaeda; and that some of his fellow Saudi students filmed the attack. There is enough evidence for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R.-Fla.), a fervent Trump supporter who represents Pensacola, to label the attack an act of terrorism. But Trump, who never hesitates to throw out the “T” word after other attacks by Muslims, refuses to do so in this case.
This is, of course, only the latest example of Trump’s suspicious partiality to Saudi Arabia — the site of his first trip abroad as president. Trump has taken Saudi Arabia’s side as it has blockaded Qatar, the home of a large U.S. military base; caused a humanitarian tragedy with its bombing of Yemen; and even murdered and dismembered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Congress was so outraged by Saudi atrocities — both against Yemen and Khashoggi — that it passed legislation to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Trump vetoed the bills. And even while abandoning the Kurds who fought with U.S. troops to defeat the Islamic State, Trump has sent thousands of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, a deployment that in the past has inflamed jihadist sentiment.
Why is Trump so sickeningly solicitous of a vicious dictatorship whose citizens have carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Americans, from Sept. 11, 2001, to Friday in Pensacola? In public, Trump talks about the supposed economic benefits of the relationship — even though the United States, which has now become energy-independent, no longer needs Saudi oil. “They give us a lot of jobs. They give us a lot of business,” Trump said in justifying his nonresponse to Khashoggi’s murder. As usual, Trump is wildly exaggerating: He claimed last year that the Saudis have agreed to buy $110 billion in U.S. weapons since he took office. The real figure was $14.5 billion.
One can’t help but suspect that Trump’s interest in Saudi Arabia is more personal. While Trump now denies any financial ties to Saudi Arabia, during a 2015 campaign rally, he said: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Trump has continued to benefit from Saudi largesse as president. The Post reported that, at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, “revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018” after “two years of decline.” The general manager of the hotel attributed its good fortune to “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
That would be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has established a chummy relationship with his U.S. counterpart, “Crown Prince” Jared Kushner, whose family real estate company has its own ties to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This is a friendship that allows the crown prince to literally get away with murder.
If we’ve learned anything from Trump’s attempted extortion of Ukraine, it’s that all politics and policy is personal for him. His policy is “Me First,” not “America First.” Trump’s suspicious relationship with Saudi Arabia is merely another example of what happens when a president decides to run the U.S. government as if it were a family-owned business whose only objective is to benefit his bottom line.