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July 27, 2007

Mixed Messages Saudi Style
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Friday morning's NY Times headline was about the Administration's difficulties winning Saudi Arabia's cooperation over Iraq.  Saturday's headline (published Friday night) is about a $20 billion arms deal Washington is trying to push through.   Support for latter is not conditioned on progress on the former.

Given the importance of Saudi cooperation on Iraq, the question immediately arises as to why the weapons sales are not tied to Saudi support for the Iraqi government and the effort to stabilize that country.  What's the use of being the global superpower if that power cannot be used to leverage support for US policy goals?

This is an example of a phenomenon I always found strange while I served in government.  Even in relation to top priority policy goals, the US government is often very reluctant to link unrelated policy areas in an effort to exert leverage over foreign governments.

The reasons are manifold, yet surprising: one is the simple fact that, oftentimes, one arm of the US government simply does not know what other branches are doing, even in the case of relations with a significant ally.  In the current situation vis-a-vis Saudi, while State, Defense, and the NSC may all be clued in, the impetus behind different parts of the policy - the push for Saudi engagement in Iraq and the arms deal, for example, are being driven by separate bureaucratic arms that each have their own agendas.   Those hands-on policymakers who want the weapons package in order to gird the kingdom against Iranian influence are probably not personally responsible for untangling the Iraq quagmire, and vis-versa.  While the result can be hopelessly ill-coordinated, especially as compared to much smaller governments whose left hands know what their right is doing  But there can be a bright side:  given the ill-fated direction of Iraq policy, is it really a bad thing that some in the State and Defense Department are thinking beyond the war and focusing on how to recover other long-term policy interests?

There is also, in some policymaking circles, an belief that by linking issues that are not directly related, US foreign policy will reveal itself to be more mercenary than principled, as if the rest of the world today believed that every single US policy decision was reached on its own independent merits, irrespective of context.  This has never made much sense to me.  Given the President's repeated professions of the seminal importance of the Iraq struggle, how does he justify not exerting greater leverage to secure the cooperation of a key country in the region?



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Well I wish I had your idealism Suzanne. Even where there is an apparent conflict in US policy, you assume that the conflict is just a by-product of lack of coordination among different, equally well-meaning "policy" arms of the government.

But surely where 20 billion in arms sales are concerned, the more likely explanation is that all the people who are getting a piece of that $20 billion action have more influence on US government behavior toward Saudi Arabia than the people who worry every day about stabilizing Iraq.

Note also that the NYT says "the proposal for advanced weapons for Saudi Arabia has stoked concern in Israel and among its U.S. backers" and that the response to these concerns has been the whopping $30 billion, 10-year military aid package for Israel, much in the form of FMF aid to finance procurement of US weapons. So the economic benefits of selling arms to Saudi Arabia include a sort of multiplier effect in the form of increased demand from foreign and domestic lobbies, and the Congress, for arms sales to other countries, particularly Israel.

It's just a racket. Is there any wonder that it is extremely difficult to stop a $50 billion dollar treasure wagon once it gets rolling?

Great, we are arming another unstable, repressive, dictatorial regime to the teeth.

Tell me this isn't going to come back to bite us in a few years.

You're right on the basic question: If we do take some sort of notional "high road" and not sell the Saudis the arms in question, do we simply lose money, or do we also lose some influence & leverage on a country key to the Middle East and Islamic world in general?

Also you do not labor under the misapprehension that a Democrat administration would NOT do exactly the same transaction with the Saudis, though perhaps with different US defense companies that were more generous to the campaign coffers of the Dhimmi-crat Party?

The US has a functioning State Department? I didn't know that.

Here's an excerpt from the WaPo news report:
The Bush administration will announce next week a series of arms deals worth at least $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other oil-rich Persian Gulf states as well as new 10-year military aid packages to Israel and Egypt, a move to shore up allies in the Middle East and counter Iran's rising influence, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The arms deals, which include the sales of a variety of sophisticated weaponry, would be the largest negotiated by this administration. The military assistance agreements would provide $30 billion in new U.S. aid to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt over 10 years, the officials said. Both figures represent significant increases in military support.

"This is a big development, because it's part of a larger regional strategy and the maintenance of a strong U.S. presence in the region. We're paying attention to the needs of our allies and what everyone in the region believes is a flexing of muscles by a more aggressive Iran. One way to deal with that is to make our allies and friends strong," said a senior administration official involved in the negotiations.

Of course it is horsepucky to say that Iran is threatening the Gulf countries. The only countries doing any threatening and invading in the Middle East are the Pentagon-led United States and Israel. This is all about money and power.

Why isn't the United States trying to stabilize Iraq? The US has not been and is not now trying to stabilize Iraq, evidenced recently by the arming of both Sunnis and Shiites, because the US has a divide-and-conquer strategy to insure continued US military involvement. Read Bush's speeches. Last year the reason for continued US military presence in Iraq was the civil war, whic I contend the US promoted. This year the political reason given is al Qaeda, but now Bush is calling every occupation fighter al Qaeda. Of course there are occupation fighters only because there is an occupation, so it's self-fulfilling, that is the desire to maintain a military presence in Iraq because of unstabilization.

So don't expect any real US effort to stabilize Iraq. It's been over four years and things are worse than ever, by design. As Dan writes: It's just a racket, which is what Smedley Butler said also, seventy years ago. War, that is.

I read the Times' story with upraised eyebrow, reasoning that the Saudi sale was as likely aimed at reducing Arab governments' anger at American restocking of Israel's armed forces after Nasrallah's War last year as the other way around.

Most probably what had to take place before these deals could be floated in public was an internal administration negotiation, with partisans of Israel in the OVP working out agreement with people in the State Department who want to organize Sunni Arab governments against Iran; factions within the Pentagon anxious to expand production rates (thereby reducing unit costs) for certain weapons system the American military also buys; and other people in the military and intelligence services worried that advanced weapons sold to countries where Islamic fanaticism is at a high level could someday be used against American forces or interests in the region.

In other words, the Bush administration most likely had to negotiate with itself before coming up with measures to address our relations with Mideast countries. This is not an ideal situation. It reflects a weak President, and a weak State Department, unable to impose a foreign policy direction on the rest of the administration. It also reflects a substantial amount of inertia -- the United States has expressed support for governments in the Middle East through arms shipments in the past, so we are doing so again now. Only the shipments will be larger and more expensive than they ever were before.

Linkage is an interesting concept in foreign relations, but for it to be relevant it has to bear some relation to a foreign policy strategy devised beforehand. Is this the case here? Or are we seeing a mere compromise among the parochial objectives of different agencies, ratified by a White House always behind events and making policy up as it goes?

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