The Arab lobby now seeks to capitalize on fears of war with Iran to convince Congress to approve the largest arms sale in U.S. history to Saudi Arabia. In fact, the sale will do nothing to protect the Saudis from Iran and will reward them for continuing to undermine our values and interests.
Who is this Arab lobby? It is led by the Saudis themselves and supported by Arabists – current and former government officials who believe America must keep the Saudis happy to ensure the flow of oil – oil companies who profit from that relationship and defense contractors who also make money and tell the Pentagon they can lower the unit costs for American weapons and keep production lines open. This formidable lobby has proven nearly impossible to defeat as the Saudis have already purchased roughly $100 billion worth of U.S. arms.
The paradox is that we sell the Saudis all of these weapons on the pretext it will help them defend themselves – and “our” oil – when history has proved just the opposite. Even with this arsenal, the Saudis survive only because of the American defense umbrella. We saw this most dramatically after selling the Saudis our most sophisticated weapons in the 1980s and then having to send 500,000 U.S. troops to save them in the first Gulf War.
The argument that the Saudis need $60 billion worth of new arms to defend themselves from Iran is especially ludicrous. If the Obama administration prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, then Iran poses less danger to the Saudis; if Iran gets the bomb, the new arms will be of no use.
While the Saudis argue the sale is needed to defend them from the Iranians, a significant part of the arms deal is dedicated to bolstering the palace guard. This reflects the Saudis’ main concern, protecting the monarchy from internal opponents who cannot be fought with fighter planes and helicopters.
Even more ridiculous is the administration argument that these weapons can deter Iran but would pose no danger to Israel. The administration's promises to satisfy Israel by placing restrictions on some of the Saudi equipment are also meaningless as similar deals in the past were made and later reneged upon. Israel has nevertheless decided not to actively oppose the sale to avoid a fight with Obama at a time when it hopes he will act against Iran.
The reason to oppose the sale is more fundamental: Saudi Arabia undermines our values and interests and threatens American security.
How does the kingdom undermine our values? Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian society, one of the most intolerant on the planet. It is a serial human rights abuser that practices gender apartheid toward women. It has a long history of discriminating against American citizens as well and promotes a radical version of Islam around the world that sees non-Muslims as infidels and describes Jews as "apes" and Christians as "pigs."
How do the Saudis undermine our interests? The kingdom has routinely acted to sabotage American peacemaking initiatives. Anwar Sadat told Jimmy Carter that Saudi support was essential for achieving Middle East peace. Carter believed the Saudis supported his policy and then they betrayed him by trying to sabotage the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and blocking a wider peace.
Just last year, the Saudis undermined President Obama’s peace strategy by refusing his request to modify the Arab peace plan or make goodwill gestures to improve relations with Israel. In between, the Saudis have supported terror groups such as Hamas that have killed Americans, weakened the moderate Palestinian leadership and impeded negotiations for a two-state solution.
The Saudis are also determined to frustrate our interest in gaining energy independence. Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, ridiculed this idea as "demagoguery." He called talk of energy independence "political posturing at its worst -- a concept that is unrealistic, misguided, and ultimately harmful to energy-producing and consuming countries alike." Meanwhile, the Saudis act as oil “pushers,” selling oil at a price high enough to make money and low enough to keep us addicted and to discourage investment in alternative energy sources.
Finally, the Saudis threaten American security through their support of terror and propagation of radical Islamic views in Saudi-funded schools around the world that help breed a new generation of extremists who believe in a jihad against nonbelievers. -- Undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart Levey has said, “if I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia.”
Many will argue that if we don’t sell the Saudis the arms, others will. The truth is the Saudis already are buying from many sources and will continue to do so. The question is whether it is in our national security interest to continue to bolster this regime.
The Arab lobby will make a strong case that the sale will generate jobs, a powerful argument in an election year. Still, members of Congress should place the national security interests of the country ahead of their own and carefully scrutinize the merits of this deal.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst whose latest book is "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" (HarperCollins 2010 ).
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