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    Middle East
     Aug 8, 2007
Page 1 of 2
The Saudi arms deal: Why now?
By Dan Smith

The headline-grabber read: "US plans new arms sales to Gulf allies". Nothing startling there. For decades the United States has routinely sold or transferred weapons and ammunition, sent military teams abroad or brought foreign military personnel to the United States for training, and transferred technology that allowed "friendly" governments to produce almost state-of-the-art copies of

US weapons.

What was a surprise were two details in the article's subheading. The main recipient of Uncle Sam's largesse was Saudi Arabia, and the value of the deal was said to be US$20 billion.

Saudi Arabia? Isn't that the country:
- from which came 15 of the 19 men responsible for the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001?
- that opposed the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and whose king, this March, called the invasion an "illegal occupation"?
- that told the United States to remove its troops and find some other country for the US Central Command's (CENTCOM) forward command post?
- whose border is so poorly monitored that 75% of all foreign fighters crossing into Iraq do so from Saudi territory, far more than from Syria?
- whose autocratic government either will not or cannot prevent its youth from going to Iraq - an estimated 40% of all foreigners fighting US troops and Iraqi government forces are Saudi nationals - where they become bomb makers, snipers, and suicide bombers?
- that nearly 60 years after the creation of the modern State of Israel still refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to that country?

No matter how deft the White House "spin", there will be considerable congressional opposition to the sale. Previous Congresses have opposed sales of weapons to the Saudis on the grounds that the kingdom has never signed a peace agreement with Israel. This time, the opposition is fueled by the lack of sustained support from Riyadh for US aims in Iraq and in the "global war on terrorism".

Cost of oil
There is also the sense among some members of Congress that the Saudis have not acted to control the soaring costs of energy. In the run-up to the 2004 US elections, the Saudis allegedly promised they would increase production if necessary to preclude a price spike that might hurt the re-election prospects of the George W Bush-Dick Cheney ticket.

Once the US election was concluded, however, the Saudis did little if anything to curb higher prices - first to $40 and then to $50 per barrel - pleading market forces beyond their control. Coincidentally with the announcement of the proposed arms sale, the price of a barrel of oil hit $78. Yet there was only silence from the Saudis.

From the perspective of the hardliners in Bush's White House, the Saudis were undercutting every US goal in the Middle East, particularly the current president's vision of a democratic Iraq as the seedbed for transforming autocratic regimes to democracies.

How different from 1990-91, when president George H W Bush sent US troops to protect Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait. In the first years after the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon willingly sold almost anything to the Saudis - with the stipulation, demanded by the Israelis, that Arab countries would not get equipment that technologically equaled the equipment provided Israel. Even so, based on these orders, the United States actually delivered $22.9 billion in weaponry to the Saudis in the period 1997-2004.

From Riyadh's perspective, however, it is George W Bush who is undercutting good governance in the Middle East, something more important yet more elusive than the type of government a country may have. Early 2006 was the turning point. As soon as it became clear that the Saudi-backed Hamas movement in the occupied Palestinian territories and not Fatah had won the January 2006 parliamentary election, the US and Israel - which regard Hamas as a terrorist organization - took steps to cut all financial, commercial and diplomatic contact with the incoming Palestinian government.

This set the Bush administration on a collision course with King Abdullah, who was pressuring Fatah and Hamas to overcome their past animosities and form a "unity government". By early this year, conditions were so dire that Hamas and Fatah agreed to the Saudi-sponsored "Mecca Accord" as the basis for a united government. The agreement intensified US and Israeli counteractions, and after three months fighting resumed between the factions.

Supporters of the Bush administration quickly saw Riyadh's effort to respect the election results as yet another instance in which Saudi Arabia was not pulling its weight in the "war on terror". In 

Continued 1 2 

A shot in the arm for Lebanon (Aug 2, '07)

US arms for Arab authoritarians - again (Aug 1, '07)

1. Christianity finds a fulcrum in Asia

2. Dying in vain or for George W's daddy?

3. Ahmadinejad's bureaucratic revolution   

4. Iran faces challenges from within

5. Taliban hold Afghanistan hostage

6. Beijing sends a warning to Taiwan 

7. At 80 years young, PLA is still going strong

8. SCO is primed and ready to fire

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Aug 6, 2007)


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