Selling arms to the Saudis

America’s ostensible allies are fueling the spread of radical Islam and posing a direct danger to US national security.

saudi (do not publish again) (photo credit: avi katz)
saudi (do not publish again)
(photo credit: avi katz)
DESPITE RAISING EYEBROWS AMONG SEVERAL dozen US lawmakers, the Obama Administration recently finalized a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the largest weapons sale in American history. The package, ostensibly intended to bolster Saudi defense forces as a counter to Iran’s growing power in the Persian Gulf region, includes 84 F-15 fighter jets, 178 combat helicopters and more than 10,000 missiles and precision munitions, the latter comprising some of the most advanced weaponry in the US arsenal.
Aside from the potentially troubling long-term implications for Israel’s security – and the fact that it’s unlikely to deter Iran – this shortsighted sale represents a betrayal of American values and actually undermines, rather than boosts, US national security.
True, the US has been selling arms to the Saudis for decades. It’s not these advanced weapons, however, that ensure the kingdom’s survival – it’s the American defense umbrella, which, clearly, is the most effective means of deterring Iran from threatening its neighbors.
Besides, a significant part of this arms package may very well be used to bolster the royal family against internal enemies, which raises an important question: Should the US be strengthening one of the world’s most repressive regimes?
Only last September, US President Barack Obama declared before the UN General Assembly: “Freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings. For the United States, this is a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity… Part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.”
But if these are America’s core values, how can it justify selling stateof- the-art weaponry to a corrupt, tyrannical regime? Can the US seriously claim to be a beacon of human rights even as it props up the autocratic rulers of a country where political dissidents are imprisoned without trial, women are forbidden to travel outside their homes without a male relative, rape victims are flogged for the crime of “fornication,” and the public practice of all non-Muslim religions is outlawed?
Proponents of the weapons sale – among them US defense contractors who’ll reap the profits – point to the inherent clout that comes with being a principal arms supplier. It’s solely due to this clout, they argue, that the US is able to keep the Saudis in the pro-Western camp, a strategic objective that, for now, takes precedence over the Saudis’ appalling human-rights record.
Yet, in certain critical areas, Washington’s so-called leverage over the desert kingdom is more mirage than reality. For example, despite efforts by the Administration to prod Saudi Arabia to move toward normalizing relations with Israel, it’s doing just the opposite, stepping up its enforcement of the Arab League boycott of Israel. Although the Saudis were required to cease their boycott as a condition for joining the World Trade Organization in 2005, Saudi officials continue to ask foreign suppliers, including American companies, to confirm that goods exported to the kingdom are neither made in Israel nor contain any Israeli-manufactured components.
With respect to vital security matters, America’s apparent inability to exert influence over Saudi Arabia is even more problematic. Nearly a decade after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the US were Saudi citizens, Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, according to secret cables made public by WikiLeaks in November. In one such memo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that these terrorist groups “probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources.”
And not only is Saudi Arabia turning a blind eye to terrorist financing—it’s still indoctrinating children with a radical, hate-filled ideology. Since 9/11, Riyadh has repeatedly promised to purge its religious curriculum of anti-Western and anti-Semitic teachings. This promise, however, remains unfulfilled. In its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, the US State Department noted that Saudi textbooks “continued to contain overtly intolerant statements against Jews and Christians” and “continued to state that apostates from Islam should be killed.” So much for American clout.
It would be disturbing enough if these textbooks were used only in Saudi Arabia. In fact, they’re used in thousands of Saudi-funded schools worldwide, including, as revealed in a recent BBC documentary, in the United Kingdom.
Writing about the need for Saudi educational reform in a Washington Post op-ed last year, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, America’s top financial counterterrorism official, warned that “unless the next generation of children is taught to reject violent extremism, we will forever be faced with the challenge of disrupting the next group of terrorist facilitators and supporters.”
In other words, America’s ostensible allies are fueling the spread of radical Islam and posing a direct danger to US national security. And whom are we kidding? Even if the Saudis revise their textbooks, without additional reforms there’s no guarantee they’ll remain in the pro- Western camp over the long haul (anyone remember the Shah of Iran?). Against whom would the Saudi weapons be turned then?
It’s time for the US to make future Saudi arms deals contingent on progress in cracking down on terrorist financing. Additionally, the Administration should insist on genuine Saudi political and educational reform, which, in no small measure, could help thwart the extremism that breeds the very terrorists against whom the US is fighting.
Robert Horenstein is Community Relations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.