"Transactional” is the word often used to describe the unique presidency of showman/real estate developer-turned-politician President Donald Trump. The meaning of this in the context of America’s highest office has become crystal clear. It amounts to a giant “Clearance sale—everything must go” sign planted on the country’s front lawn.
On Sept. 15, following a drone attack by Iran on a Saudi refinery, @realdonaldtrump weighed in with this: “Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”
Trump’s tweet and subsequent commitment of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia is the latest payback in his transactions with his new besties in the Middle East. He is threatening to turn America’s military into a force for hire.
With the advent of fracking, America has been able to eliminate its historic dependence on Saudi oil. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, figured out the new U.S. transactional policy in the Middle East early on.
The Saudi prince laid out an elaborate banquet in the overwhelming golden decor of Arabian palaces and a male-only sword dance massaged the new American president’s ego. Private communications and conferences on economic development for Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House advisor with no diplomatic or overseas experience, have made it seem like the two countries share economic development interests.
The ancient conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia does not threaten U.S. domestic security. America can help mitigate disruptions of allies’ oil supplies, assuming the U.S. has any allies left. Our unwavering commitment to defense in the Middle East is to Israel, not to Saudi Arabia.
There is no legitimate policy reason to risk American lives in supporting MBS’s dreams of Saudi power. But the Middle East is only one table in the garage sale that the American government has become.
BLM acting head William Pendley has written that the founding fathers wanted all government lands sold. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao sees no conflict in including her family’s shipping interests in meetings with foreign governments.
Transactions are one-offs. You sell me this, and I pay you that. Good policy requires the long view of history and future consequences. A president only familiar with the former cannot create the latter.