After crawling over hot sands to kiss the, er, ring of the blundering Saudi crown prince — the most appalling grovel in the history of the U.S. presidency — President Trump must demand something in return. Otherwise, he has traded what remains of the dignity of his office for mere humiliation.
I’m not talking about a deal for Saudi Arabia to buy more U.S. weapons, though Trump flaunts this justification for his simpering weakness in response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post. According to Trump, the United States must either cower before Mohammed bin Salman or the prince will take his $110 billion elsewhere.
Please. Even if the United States would sell its honor at that paltry price, there is no $110 billion. The number emerged half-baked from Trump’s overheated hype kitchen. Much like the president’s claims about his personal net worth, his creditworthiness and his business acumen, this Saudi largesse resembles reality the way a circus tent resembles a Chanel frock.
As for taking Saudi treasure elsewhere: After 75 years of partnership, there is no “elsewhere.” The kingdom’s warriors have been trained by U.S. officers on U.S. systems employing U.S. arms. Modern weapons must be interoperable. Russian or Chinese arms would not fit. Ask Gillette: You sell a razor so that the customer must buy your blades.
Trump’s spinelessness is so appalling in part because it’s needless. Years of cooing into the ears of Saudi sybarites, hoping to sell them luxury condos, have ill prepared the man for the immense strength of the presidency. The petulant potentate of Riyadh cannot walk away from a presidential scolding, were Trump sufficiently principled to deliver one. The Saudis are desperate for U.S. arms, with or without this kowtowing by the president. They need the stable global oil market that American power and leadership has established, and that the United States maintains. And they rely on American mentors to help them become stakeholders in the post-petroleum future.
But Trump has knelt. There’s no taking it back. He can now redeem the national honor only by demanding Saudi cooperation on Mideast peace in Israel and Palestinian territories.
Do I think it’s likely? No. But fey Jared Kushner, Trump’s kindergarten Kissinger, believes that MBS, as the Saudi prince is known, holds the key to peace.
So let’s see it.
Kushner is correct up to a point. Saudi Arabia is the heart — and by “heart,” I mean wallet — of the cynical cabal of Arab leaders who have used generations of suffering Palestinians to distract their own people from kleptocratic misrule. Across the Middle East, unpopular leaders have directed popular discontent away from themselves and toward Israel. The farther they are from the suffering, the easier this cynicism has been. Egypt and Jordan, next-door neighbors to the Palestinians, have sought a lasting peace for decades. The Saudis and Iranians have not.
So it was that the distant Arabs scuttled the near-deal at Camp David in 2000. They could have cut off money for Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization and directed it instead to building an independent Palestinian state. But to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist would have cost them their scapegoat. They chose instead to deepen the pain of the West Bank and Gaza, indeed to wallow in it.
Trump’s man-crush on MBS will smell better if, and only if, it compels Saudi Arabia to push sincerely for peace. In a region of failing powers, the Saudis are failing more slowly than their neighbors — which gives them a measure of clout. They must use that to bring the Palestinians to the bargaining table and pave the way to a deal by recognizing Israel’s right to a secure existence.
Which brings us to an earlier Trump capitulation. How can anyone think this president is strong when he runs around the world surrendering? Last year, Trump gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a pearl of great price — the announcement of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the contested capital of Jerusalem — while asking bupkis in return.
The time has come to send Netanyahu the invoice: one more push to achieve a lasting two-state solution.
Trump, the self-styled Artist of the Deal, has applied fattier grease to the Saudis and Israelis than ever before. Will he now let them slip away? If these two players in Mideast politics are not leveraged for peace, Trump will be one of history’s great chumps. Having given all, he will have gained nothing.
The president’s strange official statement explaining his whitewash of the Khashoggi murder bore the unmistakable markings of authentic Trump. The non sequiturs. The exclamation points. The insecure bluster of a man in way over his head. If that’s his final word, we’re left with a petty prince grinding his heel in the face of a president of the United States.
So it cannot be the final word. Get off your knees, President Trump, and demand peace. Nothing less can redeem this embarrassing submission.
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