Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Interpol president Meng Hongwei vanishes in China and is later said to have been arrested on corruption charges, but Chinese officials offer no details that would explain his disappearance.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi walks into the office of the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, and is never seen again. Turkish officials allege he was killed in a premeditated murder, and news reports suggest his body may have been cut up and removed from the office in suitcases.
The Trump administration looks on, and the world takes another step into a dark era where political dissidents are killed or disappeared and the U.S. goes absent without leave.
This is one of the most disturbing outcomes of Donald Trump’s presidency. By embracing authoritarian regimes and making it clear that he will not make human rights overseas a priority, he’s abdicated the United States’ position as a global moral leader. In doing so, he’s clearly emboldened dictatorial leaders in silencing those they perceive as threats to their hold on power.
Trump’s tepid reaction to Khashoggi’s apparent murder speaks volumes. For days, the administration remained relatively quiet on the matter, in stark contrast to other democratic nations whose leaders demanded that the Saudis explain the situation.
Only recently did Trump speak out, saying the U.S. was taking the situation “very seriously” and announcing that the U.S. had sent investigators to Turkey to assist in uncovering what happened.
But thus far, the U.S. has not dialed up pressure on Saudi Arabia in any meaningful way, such as by suspending arms sales or downgrading diplomatic ties.
That’s hardly surprising, given the Trump administration’s close ties with Saudi leaders, which trace back to Trump’s business relationships in that nation before his election. Trump’s first trip overseas as president was to Saudi Arabia, where he told his hosts that “we’re not here to lecture” on human rights.
Trump would later double down on such remarks in his United Nations address last month, where he told leaders that the U.S. “will not tell you how to live.”
But while Trump’s uncaring attitude is to be expected, the effects of it should scare us all. The spread of authoritarianism is a threat not only to those living within those regimes but to travelers to those nations, and to global security as well.
And certainly, there have been numerous warning signs recently that the situation is worsening.
In Myanmar, two Reuters journalists were recently sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on the Rohingya genocide. In Bulgaria, an anti-corruption reporter was raped and beating to death while working on a story.
Meanwhile, focusing back on Saudi Arabia, it’s been reported but not confirmed that the Saudi government was involved in a plot to abduct Khashoggi.
Keep in mind, too, that action against dissidents also has been alleged to have occurred in the White House. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was investigated for involvement in an alleged plot to kidnap a Turkish dissident living in the U.S. and return him to Turkey in return for $15 million.
Then there’s the Meng situation.
When Meng was named president of Interpol in 2016, China heralded the announcement as a sign of acceptance and legitimacy in the world community. Given that Interpol is a cooperative organization supported by nearly 200 nations and that a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is written into its constitution, China’s leaders boasted of its selection of Meng as proof that the nation “abided by international rules.”
But Meng’s disappearance suggests otherwise — that China believes it deserves a place at the table due to its economic and military power, human rights be damned.
That seems to be Trump’s message to global leaders as well, with his look-the-other-way stance on human rights violations and his glowing words for Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Rodrigo Duterte and other dictatorial leaders.
The U.S. — and the world — deserve better than this.
Our weak or non-existent responses simply say: jail opponents, kill opponents, jail journalists, kill journalists; there are no civilized standards yet that the U.S. will insist upon.