Less than a month after the release of the infamous “28 pages” of a congressional 9/11 investigation that had been withheld for over a decade, which dealt with alleged ties between the government of Saudi Arabia and some of the hijackers, the Pentagon and State Department announced a new arms sale totaling more than $1 billion to the Kingdom on Tuesday.
The new sale includes more than 130 Abrams battle tanks and more than 150 M2 .50 caliber machine guns, among other things. Some of the tanks are apparently replacements to compensate for Saudi losses in the country’s involvement in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
“The approval for land force equipment coincides with Saudi Arabia leading a military coalition in support of Yemeni forces loyal to the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who are trying to oust Iran-allied Houthi forces from the capital, Sanaa. Human rights groups have criticized the coalition’s air strikes because of the deaths of civilians. (…)
Saudi Arabia and its mostly Gulf Arab allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 after the Houthi movement had pushed the Hadi administration into exile in Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday, the Saudi-led military coalition conducted air strikes on Sanaa for the first time in five months, residents said, after U.N.-backed peace talks to end the conflict broke down at the weekend.
Medics said nine civilians were killed in a strike on a potato chip factory in the Nahda district of the capital.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations General Assembly in June to suspend Saudi Arabia from the U.N. Human Rights Council until the military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen.”
If any of the weaponry sold in this latest arms deal with Saudi Arabia eventually ends up unaccounted for or outside of Saudi government control, it would certainly not be unprecedented for an American arms sale to a Middle Eastern government. Despite a lengthy history of intelligence cooperation with Jordan dating back to the 1950s, for example, it was reported in June that rogue Jordanian intelligence operatives had duped both the C.I.A. and the Saudis, and diverted millions of dollars worth of weapons meant for Syrian rebels to the black market.
In other arms-deals-gone-bad news, just last week the Pentagon announced it would be withholding $300 million in military aid to Pakistan for not doing enough to stop the Haqqani network, an insurgent group that was at one time enthusiastically supported by the C.I.A.
Meanwhile, the most widely-hyped threat in the broader region, the Islamic State extremist group operating in Iraq and Syria, has reportedly obtained “large numbers” of U.S.-made armored vehicles, and some of its fighters are armed with American military-issue M-16s. On Tuesday, the same day as the Saudi deal was announced, a U.S. official also acknowledged that additional American weapons likely fell into ISIS’ hands in July. And returning to the Saudi connection, there is also some disagreement over the degree to which the kingdom’s Wahhabist religious establishment and concentration of wealthy terrorist sympathizers capable of providing funding have fueled the rise of ISIS in the first place.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” claims the press release announcing the latest Saudi arms deal.
Of course, geopolitics can be confusing and sometimes we get things wrong in the Middle East. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, for example, we invaded Afghanistan and then, regrettably, Iraq, rather than, say, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was eventually found, or his home country of Saudi Arabia, which was also home country to 15 of the 19 hijackers. (And indeed in hindsight it is questionable whether a full-scale military invasion anywhere was the proper response to 9/11, given the ongoing fallout of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and bin Laden’s eventual demise in a narrowly targeted raid that caused relatively little blowback.)
To U.S. foreign policy-makers, the Middle East is a big, sandy, confusing place with lots of countries and exotic cultures, incomprehensible conflicts that are boring to learn about, backward-thinking, primitive people, abundant oil, and potential for profitable intrigue. Overall, the place is a mess. The only feasible solution, though imperfect, is to bomb the hell out of it while simultaneously funneling in weapons, knowing that some will inevitably fall into enemy hands, but what are you gonna do? You win some, you lose some. It’s a numbers game. This last paragraph is a parody, of course, but it sadly seems to accurately describe America’s ostensible Middle East policy in a nutshell.