Foreign aid has never been popular among Americans and the military component of it even less. When that military aid is destined for Saudi Arabia, it elicits general disapproval from both endangered American of the political spectrum. The history of U.S. arms transfers to Saudi Arabia has nearly always been accompanied by vitriolic debate. Since 9/11 and knowledge of the hijackers’ origins, and the less than enthusiastic Saudi support for our efforts in Iraq, it is legitimate and reasonable to ask how this furthers our national interests.
As one who served in the U.S. Army security assistance arena (Arms transfers) for a number of years in the Middle East, my view is from the ground level. From my observations there are basically ten reasons why the 100 + billion dollar arms sale to Saudi and the Gulf States – and all similar sales are of vital importance.
- First and foremost it must be recognized that these arms transfers are not intended to build a first class fighting machine in Saudi Arabia. Those who have served in the Kingdom know how culturally resistant the Saudis are to the societal changes required to produce a military tradition of excellence. It is simplistic but understandable that the Administration would tout it as a conventional military build-up against an aggressive Iran. It is equally simplistic to say this is merely a “bribe” to get Saudi support for better support of the U.S. policies in Iraq. In actuality it is a strategic psychological weapon. When we precipitously withdrew from Iraq under President Obama, and concluded a “nuclear agreement” with Iran it basically gave an irredentist Iran a free pass to create havoc all over the Middle East. obviously the Gulf rulers had doubts about U.S. staying power in the Gulf region. In particular It was natural that the Saudis would be very nervous as to our overall intentions in the Persian Gulf region. This arms agreement is a signal that we intend to be involved, and also a signal to Iran that days of appeasement to Iranian provocations is over. Our priority enemy in the Middle East is not ISIS, It is Iran as they press their ambitions for a new Persian empire.
- We cannot afford to be seen a backing away from unspoken commitments to a country vital to our security. In a book entitled Thicker Than Oil. America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia, the author, Rachel Bronson, makes the point that our partnership with Saudi Arabia is based on far more than oil. Our track record for steadfastness has steadily declined since Vietnam, and more recently in Lebanon, Somalia and now Iraq. A disengaging America will invite the same international challenges as it did in the Seventies when we were viewed as the toothless tiger, taunted by terrorists and despots all over the world. It has true that Saudi Arabia is an exporter of ideological terrorism, That cannot be soft pedaled away. The export of Wahhabism, the father of ideological Islamist terrorism, has been part of the Saudi Foreign policy for decades, supporting radical Imams and clerics all over the world. Even when curtailed by the Saudi government, many rich Saudis have contributed immense amounts of money to counter what they view as Shi’a infidels usurping the Sunni Islamic doctrine, and establishing an Islamist base in the Western world. We. as Americans have to understand that we have to become more nuanced in the world. As Americans we like to paint in terms of black and white, evil and good. In essence there are two Saudi Arabias. There is the ideological Saudi Arabia, exporter of ideological Islamism, which we must continue to reign in and closely monitor, and the state of Saudi Arabia which we must support as an ally, not a friend, but an ally.
- As with every arms deal the equipment delivered is only one part of the process. The training and spare parts to use and maintain the equipment is a vital part of the arms delivery. Should the U.S. become unhappy with the foreign policies of the regime, the training and spare parts can be turned on and off, to be used as leverage. In other words, with every arms delivery to country X they become that much more dependent on us. It gives us a much greater amount of influence.
Me shaking hands with King Hussein in 1971
4. With this arms flow of training and spare parts come U.S. advisors going to country X , as well as their officers coming here for training. This is one of the most cost-effective and unheralded parts of the entire security assistance program. This is a people-to-people program wherein some of the most talented and politically well-connected officers of country X attend classes here. In my many years working with international student officers both here and in country, it is very rare that an officer returns to his country with a jaundiced view of America. What they see is a real revelation, particularly to Arab officers, as they are constantly bombarded with vitriolic anti-American propaganda from their media and it is reinforced by the salacious Hollywood presentation of American life. In my own experience these close personal relations with the senior officers of country X pay huge dividends in times of crisis
My great and good friend Captain Sayil Reshaday of the Jordanian Army, Graduate of our Armor School
.5. Arab culture is secretive by nature, and the regimes compound it with their hyper-sensitivity to anything remotely resembling gathering information. There is a clear divide between the job of the Defense Attaché in- country and those who work the security assistance programs. Nevertheless it is important that we know how our equipment (and other actions’ as well) is being used. The security assistance teams in country give us a measure of the transparency.. I recall quite vividly in 1971 when the Indian Attache stormed into my office in Amman, Jordan, handing me the tail numbers of shot-down F-104 Starfighters that we had delivered to Jordan and had been transferred to Pakistan by the Jordanian government.
President of Egypt General Al Sisi. Like Mubarak probably not too popular but he stands against the Islamist terror of the Muslim Brotherhood. Very important to US policy in the Middle East. He was a graduate of our US Army War College.
6.There is no doubt that in almost every Arab State the military is a double-edged sword. It protects the regime and at the same time it threatens it. The number of military coups (or attempted coups) in the Arab countries are numerous. Iraq alone has had four successful and several unsuccessful. One of the requirements of the regime is to keep the officer corps happy. The perks of living and benefits is part of it, but another is to ensure that the generals receive the very best obtainable, in terms of armament. Some might sarcastically call them toys for the regime to show off. It is not far from the truth. It is not a matter of whether they can use it. It is more a matter of the priority the regime can demonstrate they put on the military establishment. In effect, it is a tool to obtain stability.
Egyptian soldiers training with Hawk Missile system
Top right; drinking tea with bedu and Trucial; Oman Scouts, Trucial Coast 1969. top left; Egyptian Ranger training 1982 Midle Left. Myself with Egyptian officers. bottom right; With Egyptian air defense during HAWK shoot. right middle;Jordian soldiers in Ghor valley Bottom left. Egyptian rangers on slide for life. A dog and pony show.
7.Domestically the arms industry is not just an important economic consideration; it is also a vital national security issue. When our services are not buying, our arms assembly lines would have to be shutdown were it not for foreign contracts. Few recognize what happens when an assembly line for a major item of equipment shuts down. Most, like the Abrams tank produced in Lima Ohio, have many dozens of subcontractors. Many are mom and pop shops to produce small but vital parts of the tank. When these close down the skilled workers move on and it takes months to revive a “cold” assembly line in a time of crisis.
8. The Saudis and Gulf states pay in hard cash, unlike many other allies such as Egypt which basically buy using loans which essentially are never repaid..
9.In coalition warfare such as Desert Storm, and in the operations in Iraq today it is an immense advantage to have allies using U.S. equipment, understanding U.S. doctrine and our military culture. Nothing is more heartening to an American officer working with allies to realize that they understand our military lexicon and our way of war.
Member of US trained “Golden Division” The best unit in the Iraqi Army and a bulwark for the Al Abadi Government against Iranian control of Shi’a militias.
10. If we do not sell to the Saudis, the British, French, Chinese and Russians, and a host of others are more than happy to fill the void. What have we gained by that?
11. So president Trump is absolutely right that the arms agreement with Saudi Arabia will keep and expand jobsm , but more importantly, it will bring a host of other benefits to our military
update: Brookings Institute, a very liberal organization has written that the 110 abillion “contracts” that Donald Trump supposedly concluded with the Saudis during his recent visit were not really contracts at all, but were rather penciled signatures on papers, letters of intent ,and heartfelt promises. But nevertheless the truth (a loose term these days) is that the die has been cast, and Saudi Arabia knows exactly where Donald Trump stands, and unlike the previous president, Barack Hussein Obama, who saw Iran as the new hope of the Middle East, supposedly ridding them of their desire to produce nuclear weapons, but giving them a free hand in the Middle East to do pretty much as they pleased. As for myself I’m quite pleased with the Saudi deal, as I said earlier, one cannot not make of friends of them. They have been dumping suicide bombers and cutthroat killers in the hinterlands of Syria and Iraq for years. The individual wealth of Saudis enabled them to support terrorist activities, with the government turning a blind eye to their activities. Saudi wealth enabled the Islamists to buy expensive gear and weapons., and buy more radio and social media access.