NYT embraces Saudi Arabia

Weapons of Mass Preservation

By ANTHONY H. CORDESMAN, NYT

IN an ideal world, arms sales are hardly the tool the United States would use to win stability and influence. America does not, however, exist in an ideal world, nor in one that it can suddenly reform with good intentions and soft power. Those pressuring Congress to kill the Bush administration’s proposed $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states need to step back into the real world.

America has vital long-term strategic interests in the Middle East. The gulf has well over 60 percent of the world’s proven conventional oil reserves and nearly 40 percent of its natural gas. The global economy, and part of every job in America, is dependent on trying to preserve the stability of the region and the flow of energy exports.

Washington cannot ­ and should not ­ try to bring security to the gulf without allies, and Saudi Arabia is the only meaningful military power there that can help deter and contain a steadily more aggressive Iran. (Disclosure: the nonprofit organization I work for receives financing from many sources, including the United States government, Saudi Arabia and Israel. No one from any of those sources has asked me to write this article.) We need the support of the smaller gulf states as well, but Saudi Arabia underpins any effort at regional security cooperation and in dealing with Iranian military adventures and acquisition of nuclear weapons.

This means mutual tolerance and respect. Saudi Arabia is not the United States, and reform there is going to be slow and often focused more on economic development and the quality of governance than on democracy and human rights. Reform, however, does happen. Saudi cooperation in counterterrorism still has limits, but it has steadily improved. For all the rather careless talk about Saudi nationals entering Iraq to fight a jihad, the numbers of volunteers total some 10 to 25 a month.

Moreover, the United States is in a poor position to criticize Saudi support of its positions in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process. Sunni Arabs like the Saudis have every reason to accuse the Bush administration of being slow to realize it was backing a political process in Iraq that has led to the broad sectarian “cleansing” of Sunnis in key cities like Baghdad and that has so far deprived them of a fair share of political power and Iraq’s wealth. Until the last few months, when the administration suddenly rediscovered the importance of the Arab-Israeli peace process, Saudi Arabia was pushing harder for a deal than Washington was.

Critics of the Saudi arms deal have also taken aim at the administration’s proposed increases in military aid to Israel and Egypt. That, too, is misguided. The success of Israel’s peace with Egypt and Jordan is heavily dependent on American military aid to Egypt.

Israel itself faces new threats and must maintain its conventional military edge; it must adapt to new asymmetric threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and it has to deal with the growing possibility of an Iranian nuclear threat to its very existence. Helping Israel deal with conventional threats through arms sales frees it to deal with those other threats on its own, and produces far more stability in the region than would a weak Israel, which might have to strike pre-emptively or overreact.

Equally important, the proposed arms sales are not going to produce sudden shifts in the military balance or a new regional arms race. While the scope of the Israel deal ­ more than $30 billion over the next 10 years ­ seems huge, it really means deliveries over a decade at a cost one-third higher than in the past. Given the steadily rising cost of arms technology, Israel may not “break even” in terms of actual numbers of weapons delivered. Egypt will get substantially less down the road, but enough to show that it has parity in some key types of weapons and to be a significant potential partner in any future broader regional struggle.

Sales to Saudi Arabia will take place with or without the United States ­ from Europe, Russia or China. It will take more than a decade for the weapons to be delivered and fully absorbed into Saudi forces. They will help the kingdom deal with a growing Iranian missile threat, give it the precision-strike capability that can deter Iranian adventures, and update Saudi forces that have lagged in a number of important areas.

Until we wake up in a perfect world, we must build strong security relations with allies that are sometimes less than perfect. We also must not discriminate between Israel and Arab allies, which would undercut our national interest and maybe actually weaken Israeli security by increasing Arab hostility to both Israel and the United States. This is particularly true when the motive for such discrimination is domestic political posturing and self-advantage, rather than a serious concern for America’s role in the world.

Anthony H. Cordesman is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 17, 2007 | 4 Comments »

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4 Comments / 4 Comments

  1. Cordesman addresses one realty to the exclusion of another and inadequately analyzes the in between.

    The economic reality that Cordesman notes is:

    America has vital long-term strategic interests in the Middle East. The gulf has well over 60 percent of the world’s proven conventional oil reserves and nearly 40 percent of its natural gas. The global economy, and part of every job in America, is dependent on trying to preserve the stability of the region and the flow of energy exports.

    The political aspect of America’s Middle Eastern policies intended to protect and advance her own influence and interests in the Middle East, derive from that economic reality.

    Saudi Arabia is not only the leader of OPEC, but a leading nation in the Muslim Middle East. America therefore cannot advance her interests without having a good working relationship with Saudi Arabia. To assure a stable world oil economy means goes hand in hand with assuring stability in the region. Because of the regional and gloabal influence Saudi Arabia derives from the economic power and wealth of oil, that good working relationship to assure stability as aforesaid, necessarily means America must have an ally in Saudi Arabia.

    The reality ignored is that Islamic radicalism, for which the Saudis to this day bear considerable responsibility for promoting and supporting its spread, operates not only as a destabilizing force in the Middle East and globally, but it gravely endangers the lives and wellbeing of Westernerns and Western culture. Islamic radicalism has already taken a significant toll on the West and threatens to take much more of a toll.

    The expression, ‘money talks’ in part at least serves to explain how the Saudis have managed, with the concurrence of the Americans and the EU, that willful blindness to the Saudi’s promotion and support of Islamic radicalism permits, to have their cake and to eat it to.

    As for the in between, Cordesman seeks to approach the notion of Middle East stability from the standpoint of America supporting a balance of military strength between Israel and the rest of the Muslim Middle East as well as to better arm the Saudis to assure that the Saudis can withstand and defeat any armed attack against her by radical Iran and that Iran’s rise in power and influence in the Middle East will not overtake the Saudi power and influence.

    Iran has given no signal whatsoever that they intend to attack Saudi Arabia. The only signal is that through their efforts, they may be seeking to increase their own power and influence in the region. Of course, if Iran did take war actions against Israel, America or the West that could indeed destabilize the flow of oil and just as the West would be hurt from having less, so too would the Saudis who would have less oil revenue. If there is to be a war between Iran and the Saudis, it is far more likely that the Saudis would be the aggressor.

    Some say that America is arming the Saudis just for that purpose of waging war on Iran to rid herself of the threat of Iran’s rising power and at the same time rid America of America’s declared enemy. So far the Saudis have managed to avoid having to fight their own battles, lose their own people and spend their own money as America puts American lives on the line. Does America really think that will change? Does America really think that the Saudis so armed will not turn their guns and bombs on Israel?

    Then out of left field, comes Cordesman’s bald faced unexplained statement:

    The success of Israel’s peace with Egypt and Jordan is heavily dependent on American military aid to Egypt.

    Egypt has no enemy it needs security from, except the radical forces from within that nation. But for a tenuous peace between Egypt and Israel which has been more in keeping with an end to hostilities agreement, it appears that Egypt would abandon that end to hostilities agreement, if it could be part of a combined Arab strike force against Israel that would have a good chance of succeeding finally to wipe Israel off the map.

    Cordesman furthermore has failed to recognize that the Israel vs. Palestinian conflict is secondary to the greater ongoing conflict between Israel vs. the Muslim Middle East and that greater conflict is really part of the even larger global conflict between radical Islam and the West.

    Of more concern however is that America is as deficient as Cordesman in understanding what is going on around them as regards radical Islam and their declared friend and ally, Saudi Arabia.

  2. I can’t believe this guy gets paid for the drivel he writes!The Saudis are our ENEMIES!911’and financed hate schools across usa!

  3. Correct, we do not live in a perfect world–Saudi will purchase the arms it desires from others if it is not from the US and we cannot expect Saudi Arabia to reform into a likeness of the West and adopt our system of values.

    The other side of the coin is that we must insist that Saudi stop the export of jihad through its influence and financial incentives to Western Mosques and similar brainwashing institutes (and to western Universities and “think tanks”).

    We must remind the Saudis that their peace proposal is severely flawed in that the right to return would mean the end of Israel; we must insist that Saudi respect other people and religions and drop its international war against non-Muslims in Africa, Israel and other places.

    We must insist that Saudi Arabia get serious about terrorism on others’ soil as much as they are concerned about terrorism in their own kingdom.

    These matters are not just a quid pro quo between friends and strategic partners – the carrots cannot be dispensed without the sticks that will get the fat Saudi potentates off their royal asses and realize that the world is not theirs to control in the name of Allah. If there are no sticks which control the flow of terrorists from Saudi then the war on terrorism must be considered just a joke in which the world has just given away 1 trillion dollars for nothing.

    The Saudis need to demonstrate their value as a friend and ally. They could show that they are part of a solution by giving Palestinians jobs and homes in Saudi Arabia and not merely deliver a laundry list of demands that Israel has to sacrifice and pay for endlessly and forever.

    The Saudi plan is to put the burden and onus on everyone else but themselves, get the US to defend them at our expense against the Iranians just like they got the US to conduct war against Saddam in Iraq over Kuwait and then the Saudis proceeded to pile up large stockpiles of cash and assets to promote their violent cult before, during and after 9/11. If that is a friend, then Osama must be considered a friend too and military aid delivered to him posthaste!

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