President Donald Trump's statement defending the Saudi Arabian government over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the name of oil and weapons sales has been met with outrage and disgust around the country.
One man who was particularly horrified was retired General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, who gave an emphatic answer on CNN when asked whether human rights issues like those in Saudi Arabia are, as Trump implied, incompatible with U.S. interests.
"No," said Clark. "They're actually part of America's interest abroad. We fought two world wars in the 20th century to be sure the nations we are most closely aligned with wouldn't be overrun by dictatorships and by people who were hostile to America's values and interests and beliefs. That's what World War I and World War II were all about. That's what the Cold War was about, freedom. So when we align ourselves with nations that don't share our values, and we think we're pursuing our national interests, we're actually undercutting our most powerful appeal, our most powerful, call it a weapon. It's American values. It's human rights. It is the U.N. declaration of the rights of man. It's Western democratic values. This is the real strength and promise of the United States of America."
Clark rejected the binary choice Trump is presenting the nation, where we either have to be totally okay with the fact that our trading partner tortured and murdered a journalist critical of their crown prince and dismembered him with a bone saw, or we have to suspend all relations with the Saudis and accept whatever economic pain that might entail.
"Actually Saudi Arabia needs us a lot more than we need them," said Clark. "We're actually producing more oil now than Saudi Arabia. And we could produce more. It is a function of price. It is a function of economics. But we're a major oil-producing, the major oil-producing country in the world right now. Saudi Arabia has oil. It can produce more because it has a lot of conventional oil. It is cheaper, and we have used that for years. But the Saudis need our protection. They need our support. They need our weapons systems. And there are many members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia. So the fact that this is really inconvenient or American policy, yes, these things happen. But if we're going to have America in the world that we want to see, we have to stand up for our values, and we have to put those values up front."
Clark warned that Trump's use of kiddie gloves on Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed bin Salman could have far-reaching consequences for human rights in despotic states.
"I think it gives dictators a little freer hand to take actions against their own citizens," he said. "And it reduces the number of nations in the world who stand with us on our values. And so, you know, the national security strategy worries about China and Russia. Well, neither of these countries support our values. We are calling Saudi Arabia an ally, and we have common interests. But do we have common values with Saudi Arabia. We need to help the Saudis come in our direction. And calling it like it is on this would help them."
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