The United States should cease arms sales and all forms of non-humanitarian aid to the Middle East, including Israel.
The recipients become ingrates. Their rivals become our enemies. The defense contractors profit. But what is good for Boeing or Lockheed Martin is not necessarily good for the United States.
All foreign entanglements should be avoided by the United States except those immediately necessary to defeat or to deter an actual or imminent attack on our sovereignty. President George Washington’s Farewell Address nailed it: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”
The following samples of our Middle East arms sales and non-humanitarian assistance illustrate the magnitude of our mutilation of that wisdom.
Since October 2010, President Obama has notified Congress of proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of fighter aircraft, helicopters, missile defense systems, missiles, bombs, armed vehicles, and related equipment and services exceeding $90 billion. Following the Camp David summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2015, President Obama announced the establishment of an arms transfer working group to “expedite the delivery of capabilities needed to deter and combat regional threats, including terrorism and Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.” GCC members include Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
In its first five years in office, the Obama administration entered into formal agreements to transfer over $64 billion in arms and defense services to GCC members. Items on offer have included fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, radar planes, refueling aircraft, air-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms and ammunition, cluster bombs, and missile defense systems.
In 2014, the United States approved weapons sales to Iraq approaching $15 billion.
In 2013, the CIA began delivery of weapons to Syrian rebels.
United States military sales or assistance to Egypt approximates $1.5 billion annually.
Our annual non-humanitarian aid annually to Jordan approximates $700 million.
In 2007, the Bush Administration and the Israeli government agreed to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package for the period from FY2009 to FY2018. During his March 2013 visit to Israel, President Obama pledged that the United States would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress. This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be seeking a 10-year, $50 billion military aid package to succeed the current arrangement. The United States is pledged to insure that Israel commands a “qualitative military edge” over its neighbors.
The Middle East recipients of our vast arms sales and non-humanitarian aid predictably hew to their own self-interests which commonly conflict with ours.
Saudi Arabia sneers at fundamental human rights cherished by the United States, including freedom of speech, religion, and association, gender equality, due process, and self-government. Its scores of public beheadings for non-violent drug crimes alone make the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seem merciful. Saudi Arabia dispatched military forces to Bahrain to put down Shiite opposition to a tyrannical Sunni government. Its indiscriminate bombings in Yemen are slaughtering civilians. It gave birth to 15 of the 19 9/11 mass murderers. The 28 classified pages of a 2002 Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry into 9/11 seemingly implicate Saudi royalty in the terrorist abomination.
The Persian Gulf statelets are generally as contemptuous of fundamental human rights and self-government as is Saudi Arabia. None have diplomatic relations with Israel.
As reported in last Sunday’s The New York Times, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan have shifted bombing campaigns initially directed at ISIL to Yemen. Bahrain and Qatar have ceased any non-trivial air role. The United States has been forced to do virtually all the anti-ISIL bombing despite its vastly greater threat to our professed Arab allies.
The Iraqi Shiite government is snug with our arch-enemy Iran, and does not recognize the state of Israel.
The Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has crushed all opposition by force, violence, and intimidation. Leaving no peaceful avenues of dissent in imitation of Russia’s Putin, President el-Sisi has fostered regional instability and terrorism.
Jonathan Pollard spied for Israel. In 2013, Israel illegally transferred secret U.S. missile and electro-optics technology to China causing the resignation of a senior Israeli defense official. Its policies in the Middle East are naturally driven by what is perceived as best for Israel, which is not necessarily what is best for the United States.
There is nothing wrong with that. Self-interest drives every country. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking we can deflect the self-interests of foreign governments into convergence with our own through arms sales or non-humanitarian aid.
Moreover, arms sales frequently boomerang. The vast arsenal we sold to the Shah of Iran fell into the hands of Ayatollah Khomeini. Arms supplies to Iraq or Syrian rebels have been captured or abandoned to ISIL. The same could happen in Egypt with our weapons if President el-Sisi is toppled.
An additional negative is that every opponent of the governments we support with weapons or other non-humanitarian aid becomes an adversary.
Foreign arms sales may reduce per unit costs of the same weapons sold to the United States Armed Forces. But the savings are at best a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s colossal budget.
Middle East nations (but for Israel) offer the United States military bases or training facilities in exchange for our weapons and non-humanitarian assistance. Bahrain, for instance, offers a naval base. Qatar offers an air force base. Jordan permits the CIA to train Syrian rebels. But no base or training facility is material to the Constitution’s foreign policy of Aggressive Self-Defense to deter or defeat actual or imminent aggression against United States. Indeed, stationing the United States Armed Forces in the Middle East facilitates ISIL recruitment by aligning us with oppressive governments.
In sum, ending all arms sales and non-humanitarian aid to the Middle East may not be a perfect policy, but it is superior to all the alternatives.