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US/Saudi $350 Billion Arms Deal Cements Trump’s Decision to Cozy up to Saudi Dictatorship

By: David Unsworth - @LatinAmerUpdate - May 22, 2017, 4:26 pm
Trump has continued with the Bush/Obama policy of pursuing close ties with the dictatorial Saudi royal family (
Trump has continued with the Bush/Obama policy of pursuing close ties with the dictatorial Saudi royal family (Business Insider).

It is a shame that Trump (who pledged to change the way things are done in Washington) has continued with the questionable policy of his predecessors by inking a $350 billion arms deal with one of the world’s most unsavory governments.

The Saudi Arabian regime and the radical Wahhabism it espouses differ little from the ideology of radical Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the weapons in question will largely be used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen, oppress the restive Shia population in Saudi Arabia’s east, not to mention prop up a dictatorship which imprisons and/or kills anyone who gets in their way.

The irony of the Saudi government launching the “Saudi Ideological War Center” to “counter extremism” should be lost on no one.

It is strange that we choose to align ourselves with the Saudis in the perpetual (and pointless) Iran/Saudi/Shia/Sunni power struggle, when Iran (as terrible as it is), actually has a far better record on the issues that we care about: human rights, rule of law, womens’ rights, religious pluralism, democracy, transparency.

And the Trump administration was hardly subtle about its geopolitical intentions.

“The package of defense equipment and services supports the long term security of Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats, which exists on Saudi Arabia’s borders on all sides,” noted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson and Trump might be wise to consider what poses a greater threat: “malign Iranian influence” or the totalitarian fundamentalist dictatorship of the Saudi royal family, which makes some of the world’s greatest human rights abusers look benign by comparison.

Take the case of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an influential Shia cleric, and his nephew Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who were sentenced to death by beheading for participating in protests calling for democracy in Saudi’s Eastern province. Though al-Nimr called for peaceful protests and democratic elections, he was charged with “disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife and ‘encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations’.”

Al-Nimr was executed in January 2016, while his young nephew remains on death row. Amnesty International has reviewed the case, and determined that the cleric was not inciting violence, but merely publicly expressing his disagreement with the regime.

Trump has spoken out forcefully about the repressive dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea. Why, then, does he embrace the Saudi dictatorship, which is arguably worse?

The aerospace and defense industries in the United States are powerful institutions with armies of well-paid lobbyists and enthusiastic supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Yes…the United States needs defense and aerospace industries.  Yes…the United States needs the income and good-paying jobs that come with these industries. But do we as a nation that espouses and champions the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence really need to ink a $350 billion deal with perhaps the world’s most repressive and vile government in order to pad our pockets a little more?

Do the Colombian mercenaries hired by billions in Saudi petro-dollars realize the ideological implications of their involvement in Saudi Arabia’s proxy war in Yemen?

Will the Saudi government really use this high-end military technology to ruthlessly pursue and eradicate extremist Sunni terrorist groups? Or is the military equipment really intended for a regional power struggle against Shia interests from Yemen to Bahrain to Saudi’s Eastern Province; not to mention the capacity for this technology to be turned against any and all domestic social and political dissent, no matter how large or how small.

Yes, in the world of geopolitics it is hard to make the case for idealism, and there are certainly valid arguments for continuing the longstanding US/Saudi relationship that should not be overlooked.

Yet, the sad fact remains that the optics of this weekend appear to be terrible for the United States: Trump and Co. selling out American ideology for a windfall for the defense industry, and staking out a hard-line position in the Sunni/Shia conflict is hardly a successful long-term strategy for winning Muslim hearts and minds.

David Unsworth David Unsworth

David Unsworth is a Boston native. He received degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and subsequently spent five years working in real estate development in New York City. Currently he resides in Bogota, Colombia, where he is involved in the tourism industry. In his free time he enjoys singing in rock bands, travelling throughout Latin America, and studying Portuguese.