Our murderous friends, &c.

President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
Intelligence-sharing, ‘enemies of the people,’ the U.S. and Russia, and more

To much of the Right, and much of the Left, moral considerations in foreign policy are anathema. Those who make room for moral considerations are denounced as “Wilsonian,” “globalist,” “cosmopolitan,” “Reaganite,” “Bushian,” etc.

You will recall that President Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. Not to either of our neighbors, Canada or Mexico, or to our cousins in Britain. But to Saudi Arabia.

And you may recall what Trump said, when he landed: “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

That, of course, was music to dictators’ ears. Because that’s what they do. It’s their job, as they see it, to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, how to worship, etc. They do it in Saudi Arabia and all over the world.

What is a dictator’s job if not to dictate?

Raif Badawi is one of the many political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. I have written about him many times. In 2012, Badawi was imprisoned — and flogged — for asking for basic human rights: the freedom of speech and other rights that we take for granted in the democracies.

Should Badawi have any say in his own country or over his own life? Must he be dictated to, forever? Should the United States support him and other rights-seekers at all? To any degree whatsoever?

I was interested to read this article in the New York Times, which begins,

The Trump administration is considering cutting back on sharing intelligence with partner countries that criminalize homosexuality as part of a push by the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, to prod those nations to change their laws.

The intelligence community should be pushing American values with the countries it works with, Mr. Grenell said in an interview this week.

Holy-moly. Does the president know about this? Does #MAGA? And if we object to the criminalization of homosexuality — what about other things? What about the criminalization of speech, worship, and assembly, for example? How about the criminalization of non-worship?

But stick with homosexuality, and go back to our friends the Saudis. They ban homosexuality, of course. Equally of course, Saudi rulers and elites practice homosexuality robustly and notoriously. They do it cost-free, of course. (A third “of course.”)

They also slice up critics of the government with bone saws.

Earlier this month, Trump called Mohammed bin Salman “my friend.” After MBS & Co. sliced up Jamal Khashoggi — the Saudi journalist who had fled to the United States — Trump was asked who should be held accountable for that murder. Trump replied, “Maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place.”


Trump has had many, many warm words for Vladimir Putin. Is Russia a garden of gay rights? Ask Russian gays. How about Turkey? Trump said he was “a big fan” of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said to Erdogan directly, “You’re doing a fantastic job for the people of Turkey.” How about Egypt? “He is a real leader,” said Trump of General Sisi.

And on and on.

Personally, I would favor a greater dose of morality — or idealism or decency — in U.S. foreign policy. But what about this matter of intelligence-sharing?

As a colleague of mine pointed out this week, we do not share intelligence because we like the countries we are sharing it with. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. We share it with them in order to pursue the U.S. interest and lessen the chances of war and other calamities.

This involves collaborating with some pretty rotten actors. For how long? Until nations “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.”

• On Monday, one of Trump’s tweets read, in its entirety, “FAKE NEWS, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” I know that people yawn when Trump says “the enemy of the people!” Or else they go “Yeah!” But I will never quite get used to it, and I certainly will never like it.

I wonder if Trump knows the history of this phrase. It comes from the revolutionary terrorists in France. It was picked up by Lenin and other murderous rulers. Many, many good men and women — in the Soviet Union and elsewhere — have been executed as enemies of the people.

Just now, I am thinking of Maria Grinberg, a pianist I love, whose father and husband were both killed after being deemed “enemies of the people.” She herself escaped this fate.

Does Trump know any of the relevant history? If he did, would he care? I realize that no one cares about the tag “enemies of the people.” But I do. Earlier in my life, I read too much Buckley, Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, Orwell, Conquest, Pryce-Jones, et al. to forget it all now.

If that makes me other than a “real conservative,” so be it. The term “conservative” has been mangled out of all meaning anyway.

• Trump is high on U.S.-Russia friendship. Last Saturday, he issued a joint statement with Putin. I will get to it in a moment.

A few weeks ago, you may remember, Trump called in to Fox & Friends, saying, “They also fought World War II.” He was talking about the Soviet Union. “They lost 50 million people.” (Most sources say half that, but I won’t get into a ghoulish numbers game.) “They were our partner, in World War II. Germany was the enemy. And Germany’s like this wonderful thing.”

Trump went on to say that Germany “takes advantage of us on trade,” etc.

And Germany is, incidentally, a wonderful thing. The transformation of Germany, Italy, and Japan into liberal democracies is one of the great success stories of the 20th century. And it was accomplished to no small degree by the United States. An American president ought to be proud of that.

In any event, Trump said over and over, on Fox & Friends, that Russia was our ally in World War II while Germany was our enemy. And “now we don’t talk to Russia,” he said, “we talk to Germany.”

Actually, we talk to both, and long have. We talk to different countries — different governments, to be more accurate — at different times for different reasons.

It is true that we allied with Moscow during World War II. This was after the Nazis double-crossed the Soviets, breaking the original alliance. This was after the Nazis and the Soviets had carved up Eastern Europe together.

Okay, to the recent joint statement, by Trump and Putin. They issued it on April 25, “Elbe Day.” On April 25, 1945, American and Soviet troops met at the Elbe River in Germany.

Trump and Putin said,

The “Spirit of the Elbe” is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause. As we work today to confront the most important challenges of the 21st century, we pay tribute to the valor and courage of all those who fought together to defeat fascism.

Yeah, yeah. Fascism was no worse than Communism. And for the next 45 years, our ally the Soviets locked Eastern Europe into Communism. Not to mention the peoples of the Soviet Union into Communism.

And how about now? “As we work today to confront the most important challenges of the 21st century,” blah blah blah. Bullsh**. We are poles apart, or should be. Consider merely the theater of Syria.

Russia under Putin is an autocratic state that invades its neighbors, murders critics, interferes in the elections of democracies — including ours — and so on. There is no need — not at the moment — for an American president and the Kremlin to be issuing joint statements.

If anyone other than Trump were president, every conservative would know this.

• Let me recommend a little essay by Richard Brookhiser. It is “anthologizable,” as Bill Buckley would say. A gem. It’s about a lifetime of eating in restaurants in New York City. The essay is both sad and cheerful, somehow, which is a familiar Brookhiser combo. It is also a classically conservative combo.

• Let me recommend another gem: “There’s a Question My Confederate Ancestors Taught Me To Ask: On the incredibly powerful pull of tribe over truth.” It is by David French. Some of us conservatives were tweeting this around when a tweeter chimed in,

Hilarious watching the prissy ahoy boys bleating about tribalism as they shill for the fascist Democrats in vain hopes for head pats. You saps will be in the first boxcar loaded after Democrats take power and you’ll be confused as to why your support didn’t get your belly rubbed.

If that doesn’t encapsulate the spirit of the Right today, I don’t know what does.

• An Impromptus reader writes, “A suggestion for a possible rant: social media — the seeds of our destruction.” My friend Barbara J. Fields, the historian, calls them “the anti-social media.”

• Late on Sunday morning, my WiFi went down. My modem-router simply expired. Not until 3:30 did I call my provider, Spectrum. (I could explain.) The lady on the other end of the line said she would have to send someone out. I was thinking, Oh, dear. How long will it be? Three days? A week? How am I going to get my work done? Would a store be open, where I could buy the device I need, sparing me the need to wait for the provider? How am I going to meet my deadlines and all that?

The lady said, “Would today be okay?” Happily stunned, I said, “Sure.” She said, “Well, I have from 5 to 6, from 6 to 7, or from 7 to 8.” I said, “The earlier the better, please.”

It was all taken care of by 6 — two and a half hours after I called. On a Sunday afternoon. During a pandemic.

How ’bout that?

• I saw a sign in a restaurant window, in New York City: Keep Calm and Carry Out. Like it.

See you.

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