America's Global 'Throne' Sits Empty, Former Ambassador Says
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Trump administration has had a muted response so far to the death of Jamal Khashoggi. We turn now to Ivo Daalder. He was U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Obama and now head of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. His new book, co-authored with James Lindsay, is "The Empty Throne: America's Abdication Of Global Leadership." Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.
IVO DAALDER: Glad to be here.
SIMON: Based on all of your experience, does the Saudi explanation of how Mr. Khashoggi died ring true to you?
DAALDER: No. I think this sounds like a damage limitation exercise rather than the kind of complete, thorough and transparent investigation that was promised to Secretary of State Pompeo when he visited Riyadh earlier this week. And I think one of the questions to be asked is the quick acceptance of the Saudi explanation by the president, how much of this damage limitating (ph) exercise was directed in Riyadh and how much in Washington? Because it seems to me like both Washington and Riyadh were trying to figure out a way to get out of the situation as quickly as possible and resume business as usual. But we can't have business as usual with a country that murders its own citizens in foreign countries.
SIMON: How should the U.S. respond? I mean, let me venture a possibility - cancel that 110-billion-dollar weapons contract?
DAALDER: Well, at the very least, I think it would be right for the United States to work with its allies, first of all, to get a condemnation of the Saudi behavior in the U.N. Security Council; secondly, to work with our allies, particularly the Brits and the French - who do supply weapons as well to the Saudis - to suspend arms deliveries, at least for the moment until we have a better sense of what's going on. I think it's time - high time - that the United States work together with our allies to put pressure on the Saudis to end the indiscriminate bombing in Yemen, which, by the way, is being conducted with weapons that we continue to sell to them. So there is a lot of leverage that we have if we work with our friends and allies around the world to pressure the Saudis to change behavior.
SIMON: The main argument of your book is that the U.S. has stepped away from the role of moral leadership in the world. But is President Trump just being realistic? Because a lot of people on the left as well as the right say that America's created a lot of problems by trying to put our moral grid on foreign societies.
DAALDER: Well, yes, the export of democracy to foreign countries on the point of a bayonet is not the most effective way to do it. But there's many other ways in which you can exercise moral leadership - first of all, by standing up against countries that are treating their citizens in abhorrent manners. And yet this administration, and particularly this president, seems to be more inclined to accept the Saudi explanation of how a journalist is killed in Turkey, Mr. Putin's denial of election interference in our own elections and then the intelligence community's judgment on those kinds of issues.
And one would hope that a president, the leader of the free world, would be willing to go out publicly and make clear that how countries behave towards their citizens is one of the most important factors in how we decide we deal with them. It is not the only factor. We have other interests, and we want to maintain those interests. But at the very least in the rhetoric that we are using in our foreign relations, we need to hold up the moral value of human rights, of democracy and of freedom.
SIMON: So 30 seconds we have left - it's not just expressing outrage. There are practical steps that can be taken.
DAALDER: Yeah, I think there are. It used to be that the United States would lead an international coalition to work together to put sanctions on a country or, in this case, I think suspending arms shipments that would have real leverage over the Saudis. The president keeps on talking about the leverage that the Saudis seem to have over us. We're a 20-trillion-dollar economy. Surely, we can find ways to put pressure on the Saudis that do not hurt our economy and that make clear that the kind of behavior we've seen the past few weeks is unacceptable.
SIMON: Ivo Daalder, thank you.
DAALDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.