Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bad Idea

In my estimation, American foreign policy over the years has been little more than a series of remarkably short-sighted marriages (and divorces) of convenience. But, like Liz Taylor, the US never seems to tire of trips to the altar, and never seems to learn the lessons of past relationships gone sour.

The latest courtship comes in the form of a reported deal to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours (Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman) to the tune of 20 billion dollars. These arms would include advanced weapons such as satellite-guided bombs, and upgraded equipment for the Air Force and Navy.

The reason for such generosity is of course that George W Bush is becoming increasingly worried about the dominance of Iran in a destabilized region. That Bush himself is in large part the cause of the region's instability seems of little consequence to the blistering dunderheads who run the show. The solution, they have decided, is to dump more weapons into the other Gulf states. The Israelis, who are naturally alarmed by this prospect, are being assuaged by a 30.5 billion dollar arms package of their own. Keeping up with the Joneses and all.

The dangers of fomenting an arms race in the Middle East should be apparent to even the most inebriated of casual observers. To be sure, the Americans have tread on such dangerous ground before. It didn't work with these guys. Or with this guy. But hey, who's to say it won't work this time? After all, Iran is a menace and a threat to the Gulf, right?

As a columnist from the Malaysia Star observes,
More cruel dictators have happily and profitably supported US interests, with US assistance, than threatened them. Only when they become too independent, like Panama’s Noriega and Iraq’s Saddam, do they have to be “taken out”.
Would any US presidential contender end this policy of nurturing, in former president Harry Truman’s phrase, “our bastards”? That would make a real difference from existing policy, and energise US diplomacy
all-round.

Marriages of convenience may be bad ideas, but they have the advantage of being...um, convenient. At least in the short term. And so it's likely we will have to endure more such trips down the aisle. Weddings always make me cry.

Update: For another interesting look at lessons not learned, check out this post.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The real reason is that American weapon makers will make billions. Money is a great motivation here. American government stumbled for somewhat similar reasons in the past.

If there is no war in the world, what will happen to American weapon industry - billions or may be trillions of dollars gone. Very sad and scary aspect of capitalism.

Red Canuck said...

Certainly the Military Industrial Complex is a powerful lobby. Some very large corporations (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics) likely stand to benefit tremendously from this deal. We may never know the extent to which this lobby (and its indebted politicos) helped to convince the administration of Iran's threat and the "wisdom" of arming its neighbours.

knb said...

The reason for such generosity is of course that George W Bush is becoming increasingly worried about the dominance of Iran in a destabilized region.

With great respect...that's not it, imo. The US, or at least the forces behind the current admin, are only interested in gaining a foothold there. They have to move their bases out of Saudi Arabia, Iraq was their goal for that and who knows where that will end, but their whole idea and ideal, is presence in the region.

It's their aim to maintain their hegemony, post cold war. They recognise that China and India will bump them off that stage in about 2040. They are staving that reality.

This is sick stuff to be honest, but that is what is happening. Why more people don't know, or dont care to know, is beyond me.

Red Canuck said...

KNB - While I agree that the USA has long had eyes on a stable presence in the region outside of Saudi Arabia, I'm not sure the proposed arms deal directly addresses this issue. The articles I read made no mention of the recipient countries accepting US military presence in exchange for the weapons. Indeed, some critics feel that there are so few strings attached that it would be very easy for things to backfire, either due to rogue elements getting hold of the weapons, or by overthrow of governments (eg Saudi Arabia's) by radical Islamists.

In any case, it is quite alarming that this story isn't getting more press, considering the potential outcomes involved.

Anonymous said...

Wake up. The West in general and the United States in particular had no choice in the fight against communism but to have relationships with governments that threatened to support the Soviet Union, it's called 'realpolitik'.

Canada's record is no better, we had a Prime Minister that brought his whole family down to a dictatorial regime that imprisons and kills people for not being 'socialist' enough - and Canadians still support that prison island by vacationing there.

We have no compelling reason to support a murderous dictator - but we do - so our hands are even dirtier than the Americans.

Red Canuck said...

Anon - The West in general and the United States in particular had no choice in the fight against communism but to have relationships with governments that threatened to support the Soviet Union, it's called 'realpolitik'.

Easy, Kissinger. There are always choices. Both the Carter and Reagan administrations chose to use the Mujahadeen as a tool against the Soviets. Call it 'realpolitik' if you like. The point is that 'allies' of convenience were formed without any attention paid to the history of the region and of the Afghan people. Was it worth it just to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan? I think not.

Canada's record is no better, we had a Prime Minister that brought his whole family down to a dictatorial regime that imprisons and kills people for not being 'socialist' enough - and Canadians still support that prison island by vacationing there.

First, I never said that Canada's record was better or worse than the Americans in this department. After all, we are currently supporting Hamid Karzai, who is in turn making deals with the Taliban in a country whose economy is largely fuelled by the poppy trade.

Second, try having an original thought once in a while. The anti-Castro meme is so 1960's. The Americans are going on 50 years of failed foreign policy with respect to Cuba (that policy being isolationism and botched CIA attempts to kill Castro). And for what? The most troubling prison in Cuba isn't even being run by the Cubans! I blogged about US/Cuban foreign policy a while back, if you're interested.

stupid american said...

I agree with you, especially when the Bush administration has expressed its own concerns about Saudi Arabia and our military commanders have confirmed that many of the "foreign insurgents" caught in Iraq have been Saudi.

At risk of sounding like a crazy American, I fear there's a much larger game afoot than simply hedging Iranian influence, particularly with the United States government's willingness to help Turkey with the PKK, given Iran and Turkey's recent relations.

I see the story has received some press; the true questions in the United States are even if it received more attention, do Americans care enough to do something about it, and if so, then what?

Red Canuck said...

Stupid American - Thanks for stopping by! :)

At risk of sounding like a crazy American

You sound like nothing of the sort. I agree with most everything you've said, with the possible exception of American assistance to the Turkish gov't with the PKK problem.

I wasn't able to open the link you provided, for some reason. It was my understanding that US weapons had somehow found their way into the hands of the PKK, to the chagrin of the Turks. As I said though, this is one aspect of the situation with which I am not too familiar, so I'll have to do a bit more research.

In any case, thank you for your comments and the links you provided. The buildup of arms in the Middle East, regardless of the motives behind it, is an issue that should be concerning to all of us.

MD said...

Red Canuck - Stupid American's comment was very interesting, and I was able to open the link you had trouble with. It was a Robert Novak article (I'm naturally quite skeptical about the source) which suggested that US lawmakers have been secretly briefed about an operation to take out PKK guerilla leaders.

In one sense, the US is in a tough spot with the PKK. The Kurds are the Americans' only true Iraqi allies, but the Turks have legitimate concerns about terrorists being sheltered in Northern Iraq. On the other hand, I think Turkish noises about invasion are posturing meant to pressure the Americans to help reign in the PKK. I don't think the Americans seriously expect the Turks to invade northern Iraq.

Red Canuck said...

md - Ah. I share your reservations about Bob Novak...he is a douchebag extraordinaire. But if the story is true, it would put an interesting twist on an already complicated situation. How will the Kurds react to such a move by the US? The last thing the Americans need is for Iraqi Kurds to turn against them as a result of state-sponsored action against the PKK.