The ‘special relationship’ and the arms race

Middle EastUS Politics
on 26 Comments
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(Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images)

Several days ago the Obama administration and Congress sealed a deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to export $29.4 billion dollars worth of enhanced F-15 fighter jets, alongside the retrofitting of 70 older F-15s. Manufactured by Boeing, the F-15SA is “the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world,” White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest said. “The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have signed a government-to-government agreement under the Foreign Military Sales program to provide advanced F-15SA combat aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force,” he added.

The F-15 sale is part of a far larger defense package that had been slowly working its way through legislative bottlenecks to secure Congressional approval. Last year it passed Congress and since then the details have been finalized.

Apparently it was somewhat “controversial” in Congress, because of concerns that it would erode Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, the government euphemism which, when translated into English, means that when Boeing and Lockheed Martin sell the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia 30 billion dollars worth of advanced technology, they also sell Israel 30 billion dollars worth of even more advanced technology.

Then they tack on an $11 billion dollar package to Iraq, and a $3.5 billion dollar “missile defense” system to the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, from January 2 1007 through the end of 2010, signed agreements for arms sales from the US to Saudi Arabia totaled $13.8 billion dollars, followed by $10.4 billion to the UAE.

Incidentally, Phil Weiss wrote several weeks ago that Egyptian analyst Issandr el-Amrani had said that if the arms companies were by and large calling the shots in the Middle East, they would lubricate and promote a regional arms race. Over $100 billion dollars in arms sales looks like an arms race to me. The weapons don’t go to Iran because we don’t trust the Iranian people with sophisticated weapons, and much the same goes for Egypt. Better to let the weapons flow to the Gulf monarchies that are even more scared of their people than the men in charge of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Of course a deliberately fomented arms race has to be orchestrated out in a very precise manner if it is to continue. First, make sure Israel always gets better weapons. That’s because to keep the arms race going, you have to make sure there’s always another war, and a better armed Israel makes conventional military defeat difficult, always laying the ground for the next conflict.

And then ensure that it doesn’t look like taxpayer money is flowing directly to the tyrants in the Middle East. Instead, launder it. In the case of the UAE or Saudi Arabia, money from oil sales pays for the weapons which the American military-industrial complex sells them. In the case of Israel, American tax dollars pay for the weapons. And the money from the oil sales comes from…the American consumer.

The arms companies are not picky as to whose pocket they pick.

Generally it’s ours, unless you thought that the price of gas at the pump was dictated by “market forces” like supply and demand, or the almost non-existent cost of extraction. Supply has about as much to do with “market forces” as the dollar under your pillow does with the tooth fairy. As one petroleum economist comments, “Prices at the Persian Gulf,” and even more so at the pump, “have only an arbitrary relationship to production costs…They contain a substantial element of what may be called monopoly profits.” Petroleum firms are price makers, not price takers.

And the F-15s? The war planes that go to the KSA, according to Andrew Shapiro, the assistant US secretary of state for political-military affairs, are there to deal with “a number of threats…Clearly one of the threats that [the KSA] face[s], as well as other countries in the region, is Iran,” he said.

Aggression towards Iran has two purposes. First is Iran’s destruction. Iran carries out an independent foreign policy and has a functional welfare state. This is not to America’s liking. Second, the Iranian “threat” is a convenient bogeyman for the military-industrial complex, one reason that earnest efforts to counsel the White House to adopt a peaceful orientation to the IRI, as in the desperate realist push for reconciliation, won’t work under present circumstances: brinksmanship is too profitable for the arms firms, and they have a lot of money to make sure that brinksmanship is the preferred political tool for policymakers.

A detour concerning that realist push: the Leveretts argue that the drive to attack Iran is “not about American security or the defense of real interests.  It’s about the preservation of imperial prerogatives in the Middle East.” Yet aren’t “imperial prerogatives” precisely the neo-con conceptualizations of “real interests”? Haven’t the weapons firms profited for decades exactly from defining the “real” or “national” interests of the United States as exactly the same as their own? 

As Tom Jones, the CEO of Northrop Grumman, wrote to Kim Roosevelt in September 1968, justifying arms sales to the Shah (a push that came from Washington, not from the Gulf States or Israel, which were slightly wary of such sales), in “any discussions with the Shah…it is important that they be kept on the basis of fundamental national objectives, rather than allow it to take the appearance of a sales plan.” 

The euphemism, “national objectives,” is very useful in its plasticity, and particularly in that it can be used as  a nationalist binding to hold the lower classes to the agenda of the upper class. Also, something happened in the Persian Gulf between 1968 and now, which is that Iran had a revolution – which is what the Gulf States were concerned about. That, too, is a reason for the continual targeting of Iran, which started in 1979, with eight separate acts of sanctioning taking place between then and the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act. Israel had next-to-nothing to do with most of them – although the Israel lobby does indeed have something to do with it the last set of sanctions as well as ratcheting up aggression against Iran.

The Project for a New American Century, for example, used to be helmed by Bruce Jackson, one of the “neocons,” and a former Vice President of Lockheed Martin. He also used to work at Lehmann Brothers, nicely illustrating the fluid movement between various high-level posts that creates a shared elite culture, one reason among many that no one in Washington is really willing to push Israel hard enough to force a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, even though perhaps some imagine it would be vaguely in their interest to do so.

The sale was “not solely directed,” toward Iran, Schapiro added.”This is directed toward meeting our partner Saudi Arabia’s defense needs.” 

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney, added that “For Boeing, this agreement represents the continuation of an enduring partnership between the company and the Kingdom that dates back to 1945 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a DC-3 Dakota airplane to King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia…We appreciate the efforts of the Obama Administration and the trust of King Abdullah’s government in finalizing the agreement, which will support tens of thousands of American jobs and help the Kingdom enhance its defense capabilities and diversify its workforce.”

When CEO and diplomat say “defense,”  presumably they mean that if the protesters in Qatif and Bahrain keep on protesting the government will be able to defend itself by strafing them with F-15s. They will certainly try, but if things really shake loose, all the F-15s in the world won’t keep those populations under control. Something else the Iranian revolution showed.

McNerney added that “Boeing is privileged to support the important U.S./Saudi bi-lateral relationship, and we are pleased Saudi Arabia has chosen the proven, state of the art capabilities of our F-15 and rotorcraft platforms.” Of course this theme is omnipresent in the US/Saudi Special Relationship –  the real Special Relationship. Likewise ARAMCO (The Arabian American Oil Company) and later Exxon and the other oil majors have packaged their pushes for profits as part of supporting the “important…relationship,” as though the relationship is not composed almost entirely of business arrangements for mutual benefit. As Robert Vitalis, the major historian of the Saudi-US relationship, writes,

    The history of U.S. foreign policy that we write now and the idea of “the national interest”  that actors constructed then are the result of a set of U.S. investors capturing the concession and then mounting a campaign to have the state underwrite the risk. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine an emerging American-Saudi Arabian special relationship in World War II in the absence of the oil companies’ investment there. We may well want to think about the limits on the ability of firms to secure their interests, but any notion of the oil multinationals fundamentally acting to advance (different and conflicting?) State Department objectives in Saudi Arabia defies all logic save that concocted by statesmen.

I recall also some people thinking that there was trouble between the US and the KSA when some Saudi potentate wrote in the NYT about severe changes in the Saudi-US Special Relationship due to US support for Israeli irredentism.

The real world chimes in:

“When you look at the size of this package, what does it tell you about US-Saudi relations?” commented a senior Saudi official, who had to speak anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “It says it’s very strong and very solid. Any disagreements from time to time don’t affect the core relationship.” The core relationship is that we support their dictatorship, they buy our treasury bonds (the KSA currently holds a trillion or so dollars of US-dollar denominated securities of various kinds), they price their oil in dollars, and buy our weapons, while modifying supply so as to keep the price of oil low when we want it low – the Clinton years – and high when we want it high – the rest of the post-1973 period.

Pay attention to what happens between the Kingdom and the Empire, and most importantly, pay attention not to what they say, but what they do. The rest is for your mindless consumption. I recommend taking a pass.

26 Responses

  1. GalenSword
    January 2, 2012, 10:34 am

    The interests of the arms dealers and big oil are completely at odds in the Middle East. The oil companies want stability. An arms race in the ME would be profoundly destabilizing.

    But the Israel Lobby trumps big oil and arms dealing with the qualification that the Chicago-based Crown family (General Dynamics) is part of the Israel Lobby and one of Obama’s puppet-masters.

    The 30 billion dollars in advanced aircraft and support equipment will be manned by Americans. Pretending that the stuff will be in Saudi hands is just a way of preventing criticism that the US military is operating in Saudi Arabia.

    More US military equipment in Israel and Saudia supports Zionist and not American interests.

    BTW, referring to the 1975 writings of a petroleum economist is misleading to say the least. The oil markets work completely differently today.

    • Walid
      January 2, 2012, 11:25 am

      “but if things really shake loose, all the F-15s in the world won’t keep those populations under control. ”

      Galen, Boeing, as you said, is not an Israeli company. Maybe some of its 600 supplier are, but as a whole, it’s American, so the sale is mostly in America’s interets. No matter how supposedly sophisticated these arms being sold to the Arabs, they will always have a disadvantage over those sold to Israel; it’s part of the comedy. I’m remembering the story about the sale of the same type tanks to the Israelis and the Jordanians many decades back; the Jordanian ones did not have the sophisticated targeting and night-vision gizmos that the Israeli ones had and this put the Jordan tanks at a clear disadvantage. I’m remembering the story of a couple of months back in the rumble between the Israelis and Turks when we were told that the Turkish F16s were programmed to not fire on Israeli F16s. Lots of talk now about how the Saudis will be getting the super souped-up versions of the F15, but whatever became of the promised deliveries of the new stealth fighters to Israel? To get these 84 new F15s, we can assume that the Saudis have agreed that they would never ever be used against Israel.

    • libra
      January 2, 2012, 10:11 pm

      GS: “The oil companies want stability. An arms race in the ME would be profoundly destabilizing.”

      Good point. But just as much as the oil companies want stability, so ironically will Boeing. Because the Gulf states are key purchasers of their civil aircraft, especially their wide-bodied airliners. Not only that, a significant increase in the oil price would depress the overall civil aircraft market; whilst an active war could easily send it into a tailspin, as happened after 911.

      Your point on the oil market is also good. To me, that was the worst part of a rather disjointed essay. But what is obvious is that whilst Israel is either given weapons or “soft” deals on them, the Saudis are paying a very full price. As this is a government-to-government deal, it may well be that the Saudis are effectively subsidising the supply of weapons to Israel.

      But the essay is thought provoking. Clearly there is an arms race in the Middle East in the sense that some countries such as Saudi and the UAE are buying a lot of advanced jets. But it is a one-sided race in the military sense. Who is the enemy which is similarly ramping up its arms purchases? Certainly not Iran.

      I think Ajl’s essay is rooted in the past, not just in how the oil market now works but in terms of US political relations. Back to a time when the US special relationship in the regions actually was with Saudi Arabia not Israel.

      I think Saudi Arabia now uses these arms deals to retain some level of influence with the US. But as a sign that they know things aren’t as they once were, for some time now they have being buying jet fighters from Europe as well. Not only do they have a lot of Tornado strike planes, they are also buying a significant number of Eurofighters.

      You don’t buy different aircraft of similar capabilities for military reasons. That is done for political reasons, to hedge one’s bets. With the level of Zionist control in the US, who can blame them? But if they ever start buying advanced fighters from Russia then things will have become serious.

  2. Walid
    January 2, 2012, 10:52 am

    What it’s really about: more than 50,000 American jobs, engaging 600 suppliers in 44 states, and providing $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy. It pays to keep spooking people with Iran. But as Max said in so many other words, when the natives will have had enough oppression, “… all the F-15s in the world won’t keep those populations under control. ”

    A $100 billion arms race that really has nothing to do with Israel other than providing bogey-man justifications to keep supplying it with more sophisticated weapons and even more sales paid for by the American taxpayer. Billions and billions in arms purchasing is what the PNAC manifesto was about all along, “to enable the US to have 5 simultanous active war theatres across the world”. All that was needed to give it a jump start was another “Pearl Harbor”; the rest was like taking candy from a baby.

  3. Les
    January 2, 2012, 11:29 am

    Glen Greenwald reminds us that Saudi Arabia is just one of America’s friends in the Middle East.
    link to politics.salon.com

  4. kalithea
    January 2, 2012, 12:10 pm

    I can guarantee you, that arming Saudi Arabia will have an unexpected result. If Israel attacks Iran, or if the U.S. attacks Iran because Iran retaliates against an act of war against its oil industry, you can bet that someone on the Arab side will go rogue and pound some Israeli cities with U.S.-made weapons if Israel is involved in the conflict, because payback for what they’ve done to the Palestinians over the decades will be JUST TOO TEMPTING.

    • pabelmont
      January 2, 2012, 12:37 pm

      My guess is that no weapons sold by USA arms-makers will “work” against Israel. Not only does Israel have a “qualitative edge” but all air-craft have computer-driven communications systems called IFF to “identify friends and foes” and my guess is that these systems will always identify Israeli aircraft as friends. (Of course, any computer code can, in theory at least, be re-programmed.)

      • teta mother me
        January 2, 2012, 4:08 pm

        Israel sold defective weapons to Iran for years, even while Israel and Iran were ‘friends,’ pre-Khomeini.

        Saudis are delusional if they think the materiel they are purchasing is fully-functioning, bug-free, not designed to create more headaches for KSA than military capability.

      • RoHa
        January 3, 2012, 12:25 am

        “Saudis are delusional if they think the materiel they are purchasing is fully-functioning, bug-free”

        I’m pretty sure they are not that delusional. They will have some people checking to see what works and what doesn’t, and trying to fix what doesn’t.

    • irena
      January 2, 2012, 1:39 pm

      I doubt it, the Arab states don’t care for Palestinians as much as the media likes to portray. Israel is highly advanced (thanks to US) in a region wrought with instability so I am pretty sure many Arab states just want the conflict to end so that they can normalize relations without being ostracized by the rest (pretenders)and profit from the trade agreements et cetera.

      • marc b.
        January 2, 2012, 3:11 pm

        I doubt it, the Arab states don’t care for Palestinians as much as the media likes to portray.

        you’re confusing two separate issues. ‘arab states’ don’t care much for the palestinian cause, but part of the reason they don’t care for it, is that it is a cause that is important to many/most individual arabs, as a symbol of western military aggression and domestic political corruption in the region.

    • Walid
      January 2, 2012, 1:55 pm

      “… the Arab side will go rogue and pound some Israeli cities ”

      My wishful thinking, Kalithea, but it would never happen. Most already in bed with the bad guys.

  5. dahoit
    January 2, 2012, 12:16 pm

    Well,since our designated plane # is up to F22?,I would imagine they had some rusting old planes on the tarmac and saw a way to profit by retrofitting them.

    • libra
      January 2, 2012, 10:32 pm

      Not so. Ironically F-22 production has ended because the US will not export them whilst the Saudis are getting buying new F-15’s thus allowing its production line to remain open.

      With the F-35 programme suffering huge technical and financial problems, the best jet fighters on the export market in a few years time may well be Russian.

  6. Dan Crowther
    January 2, 2012, 1:57 pm

    If I am not mistaken, these are not the true “state of the art” F-15’s – I believe that they have a lower altitude ceiling than what the US uses….

    And I think thats kind of the plan – to deploy lower ceiling aircraft from GCC states, higher altitude aircraft to Israel and Turkey, as well as “missile defense shield” capability to Turkey and Israel and then have the “real” NATO countries spying down on everyone from very high altitude aircraft and space. Its the United States of Space baby!

    Arms to qatar, saudi arabia, bahrain and elsewhere are to make sure the oil flows and the shia dont get out of line, the next layer is to make sure that arab states dont get out of line, the third is to make sure the west keeps everyone in line. fckin brilliant, i have to say………

    Also, its important to note: more states, more customers. the west would like nothing better than for the middle east to be made up small, ethnic or tribal countries….sectarianism is really good for business and the imperial agenda

    • Walid
      January 2, 2012, 3:31 pm

      “… the west would like nothing better than for the middle east to be made up small, ethnic or tribal countries”

      More like city-states like what’s happening in that other happy recipient of western democracy, Libya.

      • Dan Crowther
        January 2, 2012, 5:57 pm

        good point walid – sht, id bet they’d love “sovereign” neighborhoods!

  7. Jeffrey Blankfort
    January 2, 2012, 3:00 pm

    In this otherwise worthwhile and well presented article, Max, as in the past, minimizes the role that the Israel Lobby has served in producing the situation that justifies the huge armament sales for which he has provided the details as well as his own analysis.

    Despite the indisputable fact, that virtually the entire Jewish political establishment aka The Israel Lobby has been pushing publicly and privately for a US confrontation with Iran even before the US invasion of Iraq, for which the lobbying and much of the orchestration was largely limited to the neocons, all Max has to say about the Lobby’s role in the he drive toward war with Iran is that Israel and by implication, The Lobby, “had next-to-nothing to do with most” of the continual targeting of Iran, which started in 1979, with eight separate acts of sanctioning taking place between then and the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act. “although the Israel lobby does indeed have something to do with it the last set of sanctions as well as ratcheting up aggression against Iran.”

    Max, the Lobby’s, in this case, AIPAC’s, hands were all over the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act as they were over the Effective Death Penalty and Counter Terrorism Act of the same year of which Conference of Presidents director Malcolm Hoenlein proudly claimed a part in the authorship.

    What is more critical and unmentioned here, is that since the beginning of the Iraq war, the Jewish political establishment, led primarily by AIPAC, JINSA, and the American Jewish Committee, has been the only sector of American society that has steadfastly propagandized for an attack on Iran, while at the same time, lobbying for no cuts in military spending.

    This essentially means that the leading spokespersons and institutions of American Jewry are not only the definers of our policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict but are major promoters for the US war machine which they have tied to Israel’s interests. Perhaps, this explains why there is no debate in the Israel Occupied Congress over the size of military spending even when every state has been forced to make massive cutbacks in public sector jobs and pensions, in education, health care, and taking care of infrastructure.

    The fact that military spending is spread out across the country providing needed jobs in many states may have worked once as an excuse for continuing it when the economy was better, but it would be less likely to withstand public challenges today.

    • Jim Holstun
      January 2, 2012, 9:44 pm

      Mr. Blankfort’s desire to disagree with Max Ajl seems to be independent of what Mr. Ajl has actually written. Ajl writes that the Israel Lobby “does indeed have something to do with . . . the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act,” and Blankfort proceeds to correct him by agreeing with him. Ajl says the Israel lobby has been arguing for “ratcheting up aggression against Iran,” and Mr. Blankfort says he doesn’t mention the Jewish political establishment has been propagandizing for an attack on Iran.

      Mr. Blankfort seems to be identifying “the Israel Lobby” with “the Jewish political establishment” and “the leading spokespersons and institutions of American Jewry.” Though both Abe Foxman and Pat Buchanan might agree, most critics of the Israel Lobby note that it incorporates gentile neocons, politicians, defense contractors, Christian Zionists, and others. And many anti-Zionist Jews deny that neither the Israel Lobby nor the Jews who partly comprise it speak for them.

      Of the center of Mr. Ajl’s argument about the relation of arms sales and American military capitalism to the occupation, Mr. Blankfort has nothing to say except that it’s “otherwise worthwhile.” Indeed, he seems to think that the purpose of “military spending” has been to provide “needed jobs,” but that has never been the case. Its purpose is profits–enriching military capitalists. Blankfort doesn’t understand where he agrees with Ajl, or where he disagrees. He just doesn’t get it.

      • Jeffrey Blankfort
        January 2, 2012, 11:40 pm

        Sorry, Holstun, that we read things differently. AIPAC had more than “something to do with . . . the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act,”it bloody well wrote it as it has written virtually every significant piece of legislation that represents the Israeli government position as I am sure Steve Rosen, Douglas Bloomfield or MJ Rosenberg will attest. It is you and Max that don’t get it.

        Although I consider the Jewish political establishment to constitute the most dominant and critical part of the Israel Lobby and that it is irrelevant to what the majority of Jews say or think, I will be more precise and not even mention the lobby, if that will please you, and simply say that it is the Jewish political establishment which both publicly and not so publicly, coupled with a handful of its Israelophallic friends such as John Bolton and RM Gerecht, who that has Iran in its crosshairs, somewhat before the Iraq war, but almost totally since and that it uniquely the only sector of US society that has publicly been calling for destroying Iran’s perfectly legal nuclear facilities.

        Lately, of course, in what should be an embarrassing tribute to the Jewish establishment’s power and its willingness to distribute its largesse to electable candidates willing to swear their allegiance to Israel, the entire daisy chain of clowns now contesting for the Republican nomination, with the notable exception of Ron Paul, have signed on to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities as soon as they change the White House draperies. But that’s something Max doesn’t write about or even allow critical postings on his web site by yours truly.

  8. teta mother me
    January 2, 2012, 4:34 pm

    well said, Jeffrey Blankfort; Israel lobby has been driver of sanctions against Iran since at least 1995 — listen to Keith Weissman, former AIPAC agent at a forum sponsored by Richard Silverstein in 2009.

    Iran-Israel-U.S.:Resolving the Nuclear Impasse panel, Monday 12/28/09 8-9pm PST
    Iran-Israel-U.S.:Resolving the Nuclear Impasse panel TRT 1:35 Recorded 12/16/09
    This community conference sponsored by local Jewish community groups and peace organizations explores ways of resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis through negotiation, rather than force. Congress is debating a draconian sanctions bill directed against Iran. Neo-cons in the U.S. and Israel suggest that if sanctions do not work eventually military force may be the only way to end or delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Many in the progressive community are deeply concerned that the U.S. and/or Israel may soon repeat interventionist mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. This conference presents a comprehensive approach that could resolve major difference through diplomacy and open a new era in relations between these three current enemies. Also discussed are the best means of supporting the Iran reform movement in its efforts to encourage a government based on democracy and tolerance.
    Three Iran and Israel analysts with extensive experience in the field discuss U.S. and Israeli policy options including sanctions and a possible military attack.

    Speakers:
    Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, University of Southern California
    Dr. Ian Lustick, political science professor, University of Pennsylvania
    Dr. Keith Weissman, former director of Aipac’s Iran desk

    This conference was the brainchild of Richard Silverstein who writes the peace blog: Tikun Olam
    Thanks to Landon Hendee for video assistance”

    Weissman helped draft the 1995 executive order that Clinton signed, and the 1996 legislation under Alfonse D’Amato’s name

  9. Inanna
    January 3, 2012, 7:01 am

    I need to correct you on a few things about the 1980s:

    Saudi Arabia kept desperately trying to buy US weapons and US weapons-makers kept desperately trying to sell to Saudi Arabia. Carter, Reagan and Bush all wanted to sell but several times the sales were stalled buy lobbying – most particularly AIPAC. (Please note that AIPAC was not always effective in stopping sales but by 1985 the late 1980s they had notable victories). The Saudis ended up buying lots of UK made weapons instead and Margaret Thatcher loved selling them to the Saudis. They also bought weapons from China, which enraged the US. (he deal was negotiated by Prince Bandar who apparently was extremely happy to spank the US administration for kowtowing to Congressional denial of the desired weapons). The Saudis didn’t get unobstructed access to US weapons until they established their bona fides by fighting Saddam, letting US troops and materiel into KSA and establishing their zionist bona fides. The problem then was that after paying for the first Iraq war, the Saudis had much less money to buy weapons with in the 1990s. I think that in light of this, your thesis that the Israel lobbies were not implicated in denying sales to Saudi Arabia needs to be amended.

    Oil markets don’t operate like other markets (I would argue that no markets operate like they are ‘supposed’ to but I’ll save you my monologue re: neoclassical economics) but OPEC and the oil-producing companies do not always have things their own way. Oil prices actually plummeted in the mid-1980s. I seem to remember that WTI hit about $13 bbl in 1986. This was of course prior to the Clinton years. (Not to mention that these are nominal prices here, the real price has actually been falling since the 1970s). So, even though I prefer materialist explanations, we need to recognise that sometimes there are factors out of the control of lobbies and those who think they make up the ‘national interest’.

    Otherwise, I really enjoyed your article.

    • Jeffrey Blankfort
      January 3, 2012, 12:07 pm

      You raise an interesting historical point, Inanna. After paying for the first Gulf War, the Saudis were financially stretched and told Pres. Bush that they would be unable to go through with a deal made earlier to buy some million dollars worth of US fighters that it had ordered.

      A shocked Bush, realizing the financial impact it would have on the arms industry, told the Saudis that they couldn’t back out of the deal and that a way would be found to stretch out the payments and when that was done and the Saudis announced that their order was now back on track there was an all night celebration at the McDonnell-Douglas factory in St. Louis where the planes would be manufactured and which would have been forced to close had the order had not gone through.

      What this story, which received little coverage outside of the financial pages, confirmed for me is that since, for the most part, the weapons that the Saudis have purchased over the years would outfit a military far larger than what the Saudis possess, require, or can operate, these sales are primarily about keeping the US arms industry alive and profitable and that the weapons purchases can be seen as protection money that allows the Saudis to make billions from their oil sales while being guaranteed US protection and non-interference in their internal affairs.

      Furthermore, they pose no threat to the Israelis who have been assured by Washington that the planes sold to the Saudis will always be less technically advanced than those provided at no cost to Israel by American taxpayers courtesy of the IOC (Israeli Occupied Congress) and that whatever is sold to the Saudis and their regional neighbors will be balanced by yet more free weapons from Uncle Sam. This is a win-win, of course, for the arms manufacturers who are now more comfortable working with the Israel Lobby than competing with it as in the past.

  10. bob
    January 3, 2012, 9:53 am

    Theres a mix up in Giving and Selling here.

    Borrowing this from here.
    This sale has been under negotiations since 2007 and it is (as mentioned) conected with the Israeli deal with the F-35. For context, the U.S. suspended Israeli partnership with the F-35 in 2005 because of Israeli arms deals with China. There is considerable history with Israeli arms sales to China.

    The United States agreed to reconnect the F-35 deal as part of a new defensive package of giving $30 Billion in military aid so the US could sell the Saudis arms. Note the difference in giving and selling.

    Despite this deal with Israel, the deal with the Saudis was suspended (by people like Congressman Wiener) in a good portion over concerns over Israeli military supremacy in the region and over weapons the “U.S. has been selling Israel such weapons since the 1990s.

    Addressing Israeli concerns, advanced sensors on the new Saudi F-15s will have technology built in to prevent them being used against Israel.

    Forward
    Ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge in the face of such an extensive arms deal required action on several fronts. First, the U.S. promised that Israel would receive the advanced F-35 jet fighter, which is considered a step above the F-15s the Saudi are getting. (Among other things, the F-35, a stealth fighter, would give Israel the capability of reaching Iran undetected by radar.) Also, the American aircraft will be delivered to the Saudis with certain “technical safeguards”—such as limits on their firing systems and radar software—that would give Israel, with its high-end countermeasures, the upper hand in the unlikely event the weapons were ever turned against it.
    In the past, the U.S. also made sure that Arab countries receiving advanced technology would be fully dependent on American parts and support, thus retaining America’s ability to pull the plug if arms are used against Israel.

  11. Walid
    January 3, 2012, 11:53 am

    $3o billion is a lot of money, even for Saudi Arabia. $30 billion for this F15s contract for new planes and retrofitting of older ones; $30 billion is what what the kingdom generously donated in foreign aid over the past 10 years and $130 billion to be spent over the next few years is what the Kingdom earmarked earlier this year for Saudi social services to appease the restless natives, so one can easily get the wrong impression on how sweet life is in the kingdom. Part of the $130 billion social programs packages included among other goodies such as the 500,000 housing units for the poor, was the instituting of unemployment benefits of $600 a month for those out of work that would register for the benefits. To everyone’s surprise, 3.5 million (that’s about 21% of the Saudi population) lined up to register although this number includes some duplicate registrations. Not all Saudis are millionaires and many are extremely poor. All this to say that $30 billion is a lot of money being spent on creating 50,000 jobs for Americans when some of it could have been spent on creating some jobs for Saudis. It’s the custom for such contracts, that a certain high percentage of the work for the contract be done in the buyer’s home country to help with local job creation; in this case, this doesn’t appear to have happened.

    Story on the $130 billion and the unemployment situation:
    link to foreignpolicy.com

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