By Tyler Bauer
There are seemingly fewer and fewer bipartisan issues as time goes on, but the one bipartisan issue that will never go away is arms deals. No matter who is in power, the U.S. has a habit of selling arms to less-than-reputable countries and groups.
For all his talk about “draining the swamp,” President Trump has fallen in line with the rest of Washington, D.C. when it comes to selling arms to reprehensible foreign governments and rebel groups. For example, President Trump has been a great ally of Saudi Arabia, a frequent human rights-abuser. (As an aside, I highly recommend watching “Saudi Arabia Uncovered” on Netflix. It is filmed from a British point of view but exposes the Saudis’ atrocities nonetheless.) President Trump made his allegiance to Saudi Arabia clear earlier this year when he oversaw the sale of $12.5 billion worth of arms to the Saudi government. President Trump touted the merit of this arms deal by saying “a lot of people are at work” thanks to the Saudis’ need for arms. If this isn’t a clear example of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, I don’t know what is.
Saudi Arabia isn’t the only objectively bad country to benefit from arms sales with the United States. Qatar was on the receiving end of a large arms deal a little over a year ago. Interestingly, this came fairly soon after President Trump and the White House took a tougher stance on Qatar, accusing it of being a state sponsor of terrorism. One week after making this accusation, President Trump approved the sale of $21 billion worth of U.S. weapons to Qatar. Apparently, whether a country funds terrorism is irrelevant if they’re willing to pay. The military-industrial complex wins again.
To be fair to President Trump, he isn’t the only one that has been hypocritical on this issue. Although he was not quite as close with Saudi Arabia, President Obama sold the Saudis – among other countries – more weapons than any administration has since World War Two. Despite being a world-class arms dealer and being at war every day of his presidency, President Obama was still able to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Perhaps even worse than selling arms to reprehensible countries is selling arms to reprehensible rebel groups, another favorite strategy of the U.S. government. In the Syrian Civil War, the U.S. has been arming Syrian rebels in hopes of overthrowing the Assad regime (those weapons ended up going to ISIS – whoops!).
Most big arms deals – especially those that involve a Middle Eastern country or group – are justified in the name of “national security” or “counterterrorism” or whatever other phrase is in vogue at the time. On the surface, these seem like noble causes; however, this strategy has a history of backfiring. This is encapsulated in the theory of blowback, which has become increasingly popular in the post-9/11 world. The possibility of blowback from the aforementioned arms deals is especially troubling because it seems as though the U.S. refuses to stop selling arms to countries like Saudi Arabia or groups like the Syrian rebels.
In case you aren’t convinced by the blowback theory, I’ll provide a couple examples. The U.S. has a history of being especially friendly with the Taliban, the infamous Afghani governing force. The U.S. became friendly with the Taliban in an attempt to restrict the flow of opium, thus slowing opioid abuse. Seems like a good cause, right? Maybe so, but the Taliban is not made up of great people. The Taliban is an insurgent terrorist group masquerading as a legitimate government. Our support of the Taliban makes their operations – terrorism and otherwise – much easier to accomplish.
Perhaps the worst example of blowback is the U.S.’s creation of al-Qaeda. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union was attempting to expand its control into the Middle East. In an attempt to prevent this expansion, the U.S. supported the Mujahideen, a group of Islamic freedom fighters. As history has proven, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Over the years, the Mujahideen evolved into al Qaeda. One such member of al Qaeda who was influenced by the U.S.’s support of the Mujahideen was Osama bin Laden, a mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. The support the U.S. offered to the Mujahideen allowed them to create a stable base on which they could expand their efforts, thus allowing their members to transition into al Qaeda. It is worth noting that the U.S. had stopped funding the Mujahideen by the time they became al Qaeda, but the effect is there nonetheless. The support of rebels – such as those in the Syrian Civil War – is exactly how the U.S. created al Qaeda.
Now more than ever, we need to think long and hard about the long-term consequences of the arms deals we make.