Trump And The New Militarization Of Middle East – OpEd

On the eve of US President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated trip to the Middle East, anonymous White House officials have already leaked publicly the news of impending mega US arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaling 100 billion dollars and up to 300 billion over the coming decade.

These astronomical figures are certainly good news for the US military-industrial complex, but quite the opposite for regional and global peace and stability. Saudi Arabia is already world’s largest importer of weapons and the 4th largest military spender, and one out of every 7 dollars spent on defense imports in the world is spent by Saudi Arabia.

Adding to the 60 billion dollars arms sold to Riyadh by the previous Obama administration, Trump’s planned arms sales to the Kingdom will spur dangerous arms race by introducing massive new disparity, e.g., between Iran and the Saudi-led bloc of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states that routinely outspend Iran by a ratio of more than 10 to 1.

Apparently, Trump’s other intention of his Saudi visit, to cement relations with an important client state, is to clinch the Saudis’ commitment to spend tens of billions of dollars on US infrastructure projects, thus making the Saudi royal family into solid partners for Trump’s “America First” vision. To achieve all these objectives, US is accommodating Riyadh in its Iranophobic strategy and framing the arms sales in terms of a new “Arab NATO” that integrates forces from a number of other Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Thus, we must expect to hear more of Trump’s anti-Iran rhetoric in his Middle East trip.

At a time when the European Parliament has voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia over its on-going atrocities in Yemen, and some leading European politicians such as Jermy Corbyn, head of British Labor Party, vowing to end UK’s lucrative arms sale to the Saudis if victorious at the upcoming elections in June, the Americans are singing a completely different tune, oblivious to the need to couch their arms sales policy in a coherent Middle East policy. There is, in fact, a vacuum of a sound US Middle East policy, and Washington’s one-dimensional and short-sighted Persian Gulf policy runs the risk of undermining its Syria policy, as well as putting it on a collision course with Iran.

With respect to the planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the list of high-tech weaponry includes THAAD missile interceptor system, combat ships, latest jet fighters, attack helicopters, laser-guided bombs, long-range artillery, etc. Various US experts, such as Anthony Cordesman, are falling over backward trying to rationalize these destabilizing arms sales that pose a new level of threat to Iran’s national security and even implicate Russia’s national security since an “Arab NATO” would inevitably integrate the Persian Gulf-based defense system with the NATO system in Europe and elsewhere. In other words, the creation of an “Arab NATO” is in line with the post-Cold War NATO’s “eastern expansion” that poses risks to both Russia and China.

Not only that, US’s carte blanche for the Saudi military wish list is closely linked to (a) their known arms shipments to Syria, and (b) their current atrocities in Yemen, condemned by world’s rights organizations. The Saudis have been operating their US-made F-15 in the Yemen conflict, as well as the UK-made cluster bombs, and are now planning an amphibious assault on the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah Port, with the help of their partners-in-crime UAE, which will certainly add to the present humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and, also, further increase US’s direct military involvement, which is presently limited to providing logistical support for the Saudi air campaign.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the oppressive sheiks running Bahrain have also received fresh military imports from the US, decried by their jailed human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, in his recent column in the New York Times. At long last, the US had dropped even the pretension of human rights concern, with Trump chummying with various Middle East dictators in the Oval Office, thus putting on display the US’s “imperialist hubris at its worst,” to paraphrase a poem from Kipling.

An important question is if, indeed, such a militaristic US approach in the Middle East actually benefits the security of its own network of client states such as Saudi Arabia? Lest we forget, the internal economic woes of Saudi Arabia, grappling with the plummeting oil prices, corruption, and mismanagement, are multiplying. The Kingdom has a 30 percent youth unemployment and it has been tapping into its strategic reserve to buy political loyalty through handouts that are untenable in the long run.

Instead of devoting its precious resources to the priorities at home, the Saudi puppets are now appeasing Uncle Sam by pouring money into US economy and bringing broad smiles on the CEO’s Lockheed Martin, General Dynamic, Northrop Grumman and other major US defense contractors. Of course, the latter are more than thrilled about the depletion of Saudi arms stockpile after two years of assault on poor Yemen, which provides the necessary justification for more arms to the Saudis.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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