President Trump’s recent $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on Saturday was a continuation of a terrible U.S. policy. It is common for the US to sell its old military arsenal to other countries in order to get a sort of return on the taxpayer investment. This practice of selling old equipment works out to our strategic advantage because, while other countries may have the equipment, we have all the spare parts. And while it is not impossible to reverse engineer these parts, it isn’t as easy simply being on good terms with the US.
But this practice of selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the vain hope that they will be an effective proxy against Iran is both a waste of money and a serious moral evil. Saudi Arabia is not only a country rife with horrifying human rights abuses, but it is a country that has repeatedly gone against our national interests. Following in the missteps of Bush and Obama, Trump has continued one of the chief reasons that peace in the Middle East is not possible.
Bush gave the Saudis Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS) or “smart bomb” technology. While these munitions allow for greater precision in strikes to allow the preservation of civilian populations, the recent civil war in Yemen proves that the Saudis have little interest in using this technology for anything except total war.
Obama sold the outgoing F-15 fighter to the Saudis and would have sold more JDAMs if he hadn’t tried to pressure them into refraining from their rife human rights abuses in Yemen. And why would Obama sell arms to the Saudis? Ostensibly to prop up the local coalition against ISIS.
Since 1986, American presidents have justified selling arms to the Saudis. In the 80’s it was to gain a foothold in a Middle East dominated by Soviet hegemony. After 2001, the go to excuse is combating terrorism. This argument is immensely absurd when you consider that Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of the extremist Wahhabi Salafist ideology that fuels terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
When conservative media complains about radical Sunni clerics in the West, those clerics are often students of Saudi Wahhabi Salafism and even bankrolled by the Saudi government. That is right: the Saudi government pays people to spread their extremist views on Islam everywhere. Saudi trained clerics have been found to have inspired many people who are now terrorists. Whether they intended it or not, the Saudis have been one of the biggest supporters of terrorism in the world.
The moral implications of handing more munitions and technology to a country that does not even share our basic values is one thing; handing them to a country that is contributing to the refugee crisis is another. Over 3 million people have been displaced by the Saudis deliberate targeting of civilian populations in Yemen. The US, especially Trump, tarnishes our nation’s reputation of being morally upright not only by indirectly increasing human suffering in the Middle East, but by giving duplicitous responses to similar humanitarian violations.
Trump has shown that he will take action when Syria uses chemical weapons against civilians, but he shows no resolve when it comes to sanctioning the Saudis for doing the same, albeit with conventional weapons. This degrades the moral credibility of the entire nation and shows the world that we will uphold what is right…if it is in our interests.
Finally, Trump declares he has a great respect and admiration for Israel, but here he has increased the capabilities of one of Israel’s key adversaries. When you give arms to a country that has, on numerous occasions, sought the total destruction of Israel, you cannot boast about your commitment to Israeli security or peace in the Middle East. The single most important thing that the Israelis rely on besides US support for their defense is the technological edge. This arms deal threatens to blunt that edge and return the Middle East to the situation before the Yom Kippur War. When the Arab League has the same technology as their long time foe, a new Arab-Israeli war is not far off.
The US needs to cautious when selling arms to a country. For countries like France, the U.K., South Korea, Japan, and others who share our commitments to ethical warfare and global peace, selling arms is a matter of mutual defense and aid. But when we sell arms to states that have not only acted against our interest but provided aid and comfort to those who have attacked us, selling arms is a moral evil. The Middle East, moreover, is destabilized enough without the US provided certain nations technological advantages.