In the latest bizarre insight into Trump ‘logic’, the President defended the ongoing arms deals between Saudi Arabia and US as necessary to prevent China and Russia from becoming ‘the enormous beneficiaries’ of the billions of dollars the US makes from selling weapons.
Contradicting his own intelligence agencies who have made clear it that the Crown Prince is highly likely to have ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Trump appears to imply there is morality in preventing Russia and China from getting a slice of the pie by hogging it all to himself. Aside from the obvious wish to prevent Russia, the world’s second largest arms exporter, and China, the fifth largest, from catching up to the US as if this were a schoolyard competition, Trump’s message is that Saudi Arabia can do no wrong so long as American coffers benefit.
Outrageous? Hypocritical? Obviously. Shocking? Not really. At this point we have been subjected to President Trump for almost two years, and not a week has passed without something inflammatory dominating the headlines and causing ripples of disbelief around the world. We have been so exposed to this cartoonish, bewildering man that we are starting to become desensitised to him, and that’s the real danger. The moment the world becomes normalised to this type of leadership is the moment it becomes status quo, and already we have copycats such as Le Pen and Bolsonaro making significant gains in the political sphere. What is terrifying is the idea that this new norm will eradicate current definitions of what makes a good leader and replace them with far more alarming traits, until we almost expect world leaders to adopt the same ignorance and braggadocio as Trump to succeed.
What’s worse is that alongside this normalisation comes the incipient suffering of people on the ground – there are many examples but the one that springs to mind in this case is Yemen. Save the Children has reported that 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death since 2015, an estimate which the Guardian calls ‘conservative’. Half of Yemen’s population, around 14 million people, are at risk of famine because of Saudi imposed blockades around the country, in particular the port city of Hodeidah which receives 80% of the country’s food, fuel and commercial goods imports. To put that number into context, imagine if the combined populations of London, Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow suddenly found themselves facing famine. That is an unimaginable amount of death, and the US, as the largest exporter of arms both in the world and to Saudi Arabia, is as responsible for these 14 million lives as the Middle East is. This is the legacy Trump is defending when he argues the US should keep up their contracts with Saudi Arabia before China and Russia can cash in on them.
It is not surprising that countries continue to sell weapons even when it is clear that recipient countries are using them against civilians – directly or not. The UK, France and Italy all sell to Saudi Arabia, and are keeping quiet, unlike their American counterpart.
Nor is it surprising that you apparently can put a price on human life, given that all those involved in arms sales to Saudi Arabia make millions, sometimes billions of dollars of profit. The only difference between the US and everyone else is that Trump is disgustingly content about how little he cares of Yemeni people’s suffering, or of Saudi Arabia’s increasing impunity. Everyone else seems to have the common decency to be quietly ashamed.
- Monika Radojevic is reading for an MSc in Development Studies at SOAS University of London.