Opinion

Selling Saudis Arms and Our Souls

The Obama administration has announced plans to sell $60 billion worth of military equipment and services, the largest weapons sale in U.S. history, to Saudi Arabia, a country that supports terrorists who seek our destruction, violates the human rights of its citizens, believes Jews are apes and Christians are pigs and obstructs American efforts to facilitate a Middle East peace agreement. Though the sale may be couched in terms of national security, no one should be fooled that this is anything but a political gambit to allow Obama to claim credit for saving or creating thousands of jobs in the defense industry.

The administration claims this sale is needed to prove the U.S. is committed to Saudi security and to bolster their ability to defend themselves against unspecified threats. This has been the mantra of administrations for decades, but has always been a lie.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been built from the outset on a bargain: they sell us oil and we keep the monarchy in power. The U.S. has never wavered in its commitment, but the Saudis have routinely demanded proof in the form of additional arms sales. With the exception of the arms embargos in 1967 and 1973 (acts of war by the Saudis against America), the Saudis have kept the oil flowing, but at a price high enough to make a profit but low enough to keep us addicted and discouraged from investing in alternatives.

The truth is that both sides know that U.S. arms cannot save the Saudi regime from internal or external threats. Within the kingdom, the monarchy is opposed by reformers who object to the authoritarian regime, Al Qaeda supporters who do not believe the extreme Saudi religious practices are extreme enough, and Shiites who have been oppressed and now are being supported by Iran. These threats can only be defeated by repression or policy changes and not F-15s and other sophisticated American weapons. The principal external threat is Iran and no one seriously believes the tiny Saudi army can defend itself against the large Iranian force or that conventional weapons will help them if Iran builds nuclear weapons.

Both sides also know that if Saudi Arabia is threatened we will have to rescue them as we did in 1990-91. Despite selling the Saudis billions of dollars of weapons they were helpless to stop Saddam Hussein and 500,000 American soldiers risked their lives to save the kingdom.

Still, this administration, like its predecessors, insists that the Saudis need the arms for self-defense while simultaneously arguing that the weapons pose no threat to Israel. I am reminded of Henry Kissinger's remark when Jimmy Carter proposed selling F-15s to the Saudis that you couldn't say the weapons would allow the Saudis to defend themselves against the Soviets and then claim they were no danger to Israel.

Ironically, one of the arguments administrations have made to the Israelis is that they needn't worry because the Saudis are incompetent. A former U.S. diplomat based in Riyadh recalled that in the 1990s the U.S. Military and Training Mission had difficulty getting the 30,000-man National Guard to appear where they were supposed to or carry out maneuvers effectively. He said Saudi naval war vessels "could not be pried from their port berths," and that during exercises with the U.S. Navy the commanders would refuse to allow their ships to go out of sight of land and required that the crews be able to return before dark.

Another argument typically made for selling arms to the Saudis is that it encourages them to support the peace process. Historically, the opposite is true. Jimmy Carter sold them the first sophisticated aircraft and the Saudis subsequently tried to sabotage the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. During the debate over the sale of AWACS radar planes, the Saudis announced a peace plan and then, when the sale was approved, called for a jihad against Israel. Last year, Obama asked the Saudis to support his peace initiative and to offer concessions to Israel and was rebuffed.

This sale has nothing to do with U.S. security and everything to do with the administration's need to prevent the loss of more jobs, a defense industry hungry for profits and a defense department that wants to lower its own production costs. As one consultant put it, "All defense companies have powerful lobbyists to keep arms sales on track. It's just an exchange of money. Oil for equipment which sits in the desert, which they don't fly and can't maintain."
It is true that many Americans will be employed to build the weapons for the Saudis, but the question is whether it is worth the cost of strengthening an intolerant regime that does not share our values, undermines our interests, and funds terrorists that threaten our security.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst. He is the author of the just released "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (HarperCollins Publishers)."

Mitchell Bard is the author of "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" (HarperCollins 2010) and "Israel Matters" (Behrman House 2012).