Shameless Trump Gives Up America’s Power to Shame

The president does not understand that American power is based not only on force but on values.

American president Donald Trump signs the guestbook at the presidential palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16
American president Donald Trump signs the guestbook at the presidential palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Matti Porre)

I have little to add to the opprobrium that has rightly been heaped on President Donald Trump from the left and the right — including a blistering editorial in the otherwise Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal — for condoning the Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Except this: It used to be that when the American president shamed other countries, the world listened. Trump has no shame and does not understand soft power. His is a simplistic realpolitik that gives authoritarians license to kill for fear of upsetting their feelings.

In a bizarre statement that must be read to be believed, Trump questions the opinion of his own intelligence community that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman must have known about, and probably sanctioned, the murder; repeats Saudi lies about Khashoggi; and argues that American defense contracts with Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom’s support against Iran, excuse whatever brutality it may have committed.

Oddly, Trump makes no such cold-eyed assessment when it comes to European allies, who, despite investing much more in the America, receive tariffs and condemnation whenever they voice criticism of his policy.

Trump does not understand that American power is based not only on force but on values. Without the latter, all that is left is a bully.