Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Huge Saudi Arms Deal

I have mixed feelings about the proposed major arm deal with Saudi Arabia. On the one hand Saudi Arabia does function as a U.S. ally in the region, and as such we would prefer it to be a strong ally, with significant military capability.
A senior Defense Department official said the administration is prepared to authorize the sale of as many as 84 F-15 fighter jets and three types of helicopters: 70 upgraded F-15s, 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds to the Saudis. ... Another deal, the senior Pentagon official said, could include selling the Saudis naval and ballistic missile-defense weapons systems that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.
If those reports are correct, that's a huge arms purchase. But despite our alliance with Saudi Arabia, I'm not thrilled with the sort of reasoning excerpted below.
Defense industry analysts said the sale of the aircraft is a key to U.S. efforts to boost support from Arab allies against Iran.

"The U.S. is trying to create the strongest effort to deter and contain Iran," said Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "If you look at all of these sales, the U.S. is working to create a Saudi Air Force that is far more capable than Iran. These sales help give Saudi Arabia the capability to convince Iran that it can't use missiles or air power against Saudi Arabia or its neighbors."

I'm all for containing Iran, but I think Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are weak reeds to rely on. And we already have a far stronger ally in the Middle East. It's called Israel, a country with proven advanced military capabilities. I see Saudi Arabia as a hollow shell, with a high-tech force that has little staying power. And there is another factor as well.

Saudi Arabia, and most of our other Arab allies are one Islamic revolution away from turning into enemies. If we are prepared to make this sort of strategic investment in Saudi Arabia, we also need to be willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the House of Saud in power. What that means is committing the U.S. to propping up an autocratic regime, and acting to assist it in the event that it faces a popular revolution. I have no confidence that the U.S. government is willing to do that. It is much more likely that we would do what we did with Iran, where we abandoned our ally the Shah to his fate, and let Iran turn into an enemy. The more advanced U.S. weaponry Saudi Arabia has if & when that happens, the worse it will be.

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