Editorial | Murder is bad business

Editorial | Murder is bad business

President Donald Trump's business-first approach is at odds with this country's traditional advocacy of human rights.

President Trump rarely misses an opportunity to say the wrong thing on sensitive matters, the latest example being his expression of something akin to indifference to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by agents from Saudi Arabia.

He appeared to state that U.S. business interests, specifically Saudi Arabia's oil production, outweigh any role this country plays in advocating for human rights in that country.

By putting U.S. interests in such crass terms, Trump not only encourages disrespect around the globe for this country but telegraphs to Saudi Arabia his lack of concern over how that country treats its citizens.

As a beacon of liberty to the world, that's not a role the U.S. can or should play.

This controversy, however, is not a pure morality play. Those who suggest otherwise are conning the public.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The other countries there are despotic regimes that deal with dissenters in the traditional way depots do — they imprison, intimidate, exile or kill them.

In that respect, Saudi Arabia is no different than any other country in that region, save one, or many countries around the world.

Given the strategic role Saudi Arabia plays, particularly with respect to Iran, U.S. options in expressing disapproval of Khashoggi's murder are limited. The U.S. simply cannot cut off its nose to spite its face.

Consider Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's prescription for addressing the Saudi Arabia problem. He contends that, as punishment, the U.S. should bar the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. from Washington, D.C.

On one hand, it would be an expression of disapproval that would send a message to the Saudis.

On the other, it's essentially meaningless because the U.S. would continue to deal with lesser Saudi officials just as they have with the ambassador.

Wrist slaps may have a purpose, but they cannot be mistaken as real punishment.

Durbin's ineffectual solution demonstrates the problem. The U.S. may not like Saudi Arabia, and it may abhor the killing of Khashoggi. But that does not change the requirement that the U.S. protect our national interests in the Middle East or the reality that Saudi Arabia, like the U.S., is an opponent of Iran.

What the Saudis did in this case was not just reprehensible, but incredibly foolish and self-destructive. It seems obvious that Saudi operatives would not have killed Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, absent a direct order to do so by Saudi Crown Prince Salman.

For Trump to be coy on that point — "maybe he did and maybe he didn't" — demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the exact time when seriousness is called for.

After all, this is a worldwide controversy that requires delicate handling.

With his usual bull in a china shop approach, Trump again demonstrates his lack of diplomatic touch and his unfamiliarity with the realities of geopolitics.

The underlying U.S. approach — lower level sanctions — may be the only realistic alternative. But intentionally forfeiting the moral high ground is a grievous error.

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