The Khashoggi affair similarly confirms several fundamental truths about Trump. The first and most obvious is that his narrow, idiosyncratic and sometimes personal interests take precedence over the defense of traditional American values and even the expectation of honest treatment by an ally. Not just Mohammed’s fellow Arab rulers but despots everywhere will study this case and conclude: If you heap flattery on Trump, court him with exotic entertainment, patronize his family businesses and promise to buy American, you can get away with outrages that would once have ensured censure and sanction from Washington.
The United States has always tolerated human rights abuses by friendly dictators, but there were limits — as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the shah of Iran and, more recently, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak discovered. By refusing to impose sanctions on the Saudi crown prince even after the CIA concluded he was responsible for the Khashoggi murder, Trump has set a new standard. No atrocity is too much — not even sawing up a critical journalist and then baldly lying about it to the president and secretary of state.
The resulting open season on dissidents, journalists and human rights activists by regimes that used to worry about U.S. reaction will be compounded by a second Trump message: Abductions and murders in other countries are now okay.