Hypocrisy is a useful tool in foreign affairs. Trump is too crude to play the game.

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
November 5, 2018

The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Trump administration’s response to it expose — among other things — the decay of one of America’s most crucial foreign policy assets: its ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.

Hypocrisy has a bad connotation, but it offers a useful middle course in the world of geopolitics; it once lubricated the engine of U.S. power. A world where the United States abandoned all ideals and values would be cowardly and vicious. On the other hand, a world where words and deeds always and transparently matched each other — one where the United States refused to work with foreign leaders whose countries did bad things — would be unworkable and probably dangerous.

Hypocrisy has traditionally allowed American presidents to skillfully manipulate the ambiguity between pious rhetoric and sordid power relations, pretending they are unaware of the bad behavior of key allies.

Those presidents thereby nod to American ideals but also get things done in an imperfect world. But President Trump’s lack of interest in any ideals beyond crude nationalism, combined with technological developments that make secrets accessible to the multitudes, spell the end of hypocrisy’s effectiveness.

Artful hypocrisy requires the long-term cultivation of a reputation as a principled player on the world stage. Toward that end, Ronald Reagan contrasted the way in which Americans held human rights dear, while the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua built gulags and brutally repressed their people. These ideals helped the United States to build coalitions abroad by signaling its values, while maintaining support for its international policies at home.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post