I wrote last week about the Obama administration’s $11 billion deal to send Iraq military arms and equipment, despite the descent into tyranny of the Maliki government. That same day, it was announced that the Obama administration was also sending $30 billion worth of weapons – including 84 F-15 fighter jets – to Saudi Arabia, easily one of the worst authoritarian regimes in the world. Loren Thompson, writing at Forbes.com, has caught on to this (excuse his tardiness) and has a few things to say that are revealing both because of his insight and his exemplary Beltway attitude which omits the ugly parts of Washington’s dangerous foreign policies.
Thompson rightly points out, as I have before a few times, that Obama’s excessive arms sales to allies in the Middle East and East Asia, aside from serving as aggressive military postures to threaten Iran and China, serve a domestic purpose as well:
It doesn’t hurt that such sales create tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S. Boeing assembles the F-15 fighters at the center of the deal in Missouri, and General Electric will build the engines in Ohio. Both are swing states whose electoral-college votes could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential race. Many additional jobs will be created at the sprawling Raytheon missile complex in Arizona, a state already poised to benefit from an earlier Saudi buy of 36 Boeing Apache tank-killer helicopters. Raytheon’s radar facility in Massachusetts should also be a big beneficiary.
What the president and his advisors have figured out is that, unlike sending troops to fight overseas, there is almost no downside to sending weapons. They allow partners such as Saudi Arabia to meet more of their own security needs indigenously rather than relying on an overstretched U.S. military, and they stimulate economic activity in America’s industrial heartland at a time when well-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs are hard to come by.
Leaving aside the bad economics of these kinds of policies, boosting domestic economic numbers and keeping the military industrial complex fat and happy are surely factors in Obama’s peppering of deadly weapons around the world. It is notable that this President, whom crunchy “liberals” continue to defend, is making such shrewd political calculations at the expense of the well-being of millions of innocent people whose tyrannical governments are now armed to the teeth thanks to U.S. policy.
And what is this talk about “almost no downside to sending weapons”? I’ve already talked about how the leadership in Iraq is systematically ruining the freedom and safety of its own people, and Saudi Arabia is in the same camp, sporting a long record of repressive policies, human rights violations, and violent crushing of dissent. And the arms trade certainly doesn’t end there. Thompson seems to think this is just great, a brilliant confluence of savvy foreign and domestic policy.
Thompson then tries to describe these policies as novel, “a striking departure,” in fact, “from the ideological preferences of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party.” Please. You really don’t have to do much digging to figure out that’s not true: Presidential administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have heavily relied on arming regimes in developing countries and client states for decades, at approximately the same standard. Under Bill Clinton, according to this CRS report on conventional arms transfers published in 2000, “Developing nations continue[d] to be the primary focus of foreign arms sales activity by weapons suppliers,” and “the value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 1999 was nearly $20.6 billion” which “was the highest total, in real terms, since 1996.”
During the 1996-1999 period, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) ranked first among developing nations in the value of arms transfer agreements, concluding $7.7 billion in such agreements. India ranked second at $7.3 billion. Saudi Arabia ranked third with $7.1 billion. In 1999, South Africa ranked first in value of arms transfer agreements among all developing nations weapons purchasers, concluding $3.3 billion in such agreements. Egypt ranked second with $2.6 billion in such agreements. Israel ranked third with $2.3 billion.
The numbers for the Clinton era are not substantively different than the latest such report released for the 2003-2010 years, and no different from Obama’s current wielding of weapons welfare. And there is just as much harm-potential generated from Obama’s doing it as Clinton’s. Clinton’s support with money and arms of Turkey resulted in major atrocities against Kurds in the southeast, leaving the countryside devastated with tens of thousands killed and millions displaced. Money, arms, equipment, and training were also sent to the regime in Indonesia during the Clinton years despite Jakarta’s veritable genocide in East Timor. Obama’s weapons welfare and so-called containment/projecting-power policies are equally dangerous. Whatever Thompson thinks, it is neither novel, nor savvy. It’s deadly, menacing, and savage.