Does Donald Trump have even an ounce of shame?
As a presidential candidate, he spent much of the election campaign needling, critiquing, denouncing, and even threatening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet as president, he is making his first foreign visit this weekend to … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Even by Trumpian standards, the volte-face is brazen. In his first few months in power, we have witnessed the trademark Trump Turnabout on issues ranging from NATO to China to the Export-Import Bank. We have listened to him go from praising Bashar al-Assad and rebuking Janet Yellen on the campaign trail, to praising Yellen and rebuking Assad in office. Last October, he said that then-FBI Director James Comey had “guts” for doing “the right thing”; last week, he sacked Comey and called him a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
Trump, to put it mildly, is no stranger to the shameless U-turn. Still, the Trump Turnabout on Saudi Arabia — one of America’s closest allies since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Murphy in 1945 — is a true sight to behold. This weekend, Trump will arrive in Saudi Arabia for a bilateral summit with King Salman as well as a series of meetings with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
There will be handshakes, hugs, and smiles galore. We will be expected to forget how Trump blasted the Saudi royals for being freeloaders and threatened them with an economic boycott. Speaking to the New York Times last year, Trump claimed that, without U.S. support and protection, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” The real problem, he continued, was that the Saudis are “a money machine … and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.” Asked if he would be willing to “stop buying oil from the Saudis” if they refused to pull their weight, Trump responded: “Oh yeah, sure. I would do that.”
We will be also expected to ignore the fact that Trump slammed the Saudi government for executing homosexuals and treating women “horribly.” In the third presidential debate last October, Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for taking $25 million from the Saudis, from “people that push gays off … buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money.”
Perhaps above all else, we will be expected to brush under the carpet the fact that, twice in a single day, Trump accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the 9/11 attacks. “Who blew up the World Trade Center?” Trump asked his pals at Fox and Friends on the morning of February 17, 2016. “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”
At a campaign event in South Carolina later that day, he again cited “secret papers” that could prove it was “the Saudis” who were in fact responsible for the attacks on 9/11. “It wasn’t the Iraqis that knocked down the World Trade Center … because they have papers in there that are very secret, you may find it’s the Saudis, OK?”
(To be fair to Trump, far more credible and better-informed figures have come to a similar conclusion: “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” wrote former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into 9/11, in an affidavit in 2012.)