Commentary: The time has come for U.S. to rethink Arab arms sales
For many years American policy has been to sell modern weaponry to Arab states. The reasons given are to maintain the "balance of power" in the region, but the unstated and most likely reason is to keep the oil flowing.
The Obama administration has approved billions in arms sales and transfers to Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But public attitudes about arms sales to Arab countries appear to be changing, especially in light of the current upheaval in the region with some dictators using "Made in USA" weapons against their own people.
According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal entitled "U.S. Reviews Arms Sales Amid Turmoil," even the government now, "has launched a review of military assistance and prospective weapons sales to countries caught up in a wave of popular revolts, underlining growing uncertainty about how the turmoil sweeping the Middle East will alter fundamentals of U.S. policy in the region." And the review is long in coming given that Bloomberg reported way back in September 2010 that the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that "the U.S. authorized as much as $37 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations over five years without always documenting the potential effect on foreign policy and national security."
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that "only 20 percent of American adults think the United States should continue providing foreign aid to Arab countries in the Middle East." Along party lines, the survey also showed that 76 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of adults "not affiliated with either major party" think this way.
On the question of continued aid to Israel, the poll found 61 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of unaffiliateds in favor.
The idea of maintaining a balance of power in the region might make more sense if the Arab states had any real enemies. But their only declared enemy is Israel, which isn't a threat, as long as it is not attacked again, as it has been many times by Arab states since 1948. There also have been, and continue to be, numerous attacks by non-states, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, all with the intention of destroying the Jewish state and eradicating the region of Jews. A "balance of power" policy against such aggression is not in the interest of our strongest Middle East ally, nor is it in America's interest, as long as we still stand for freedom.
Two other arguments one hears most for maintaining the arms sales to Arab states are: (1) If we don't sell them arms, other countries will; and (2) Such sales bring money back into this country. A nation that prides itself on doing the right thing should abide by a higher standard than that of other arms providers. For the high ideals we profess, but don't always attain, consider the lyrics from "America the Beautiful," which includes, "Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine!"
Foreign aid that produces results in America's interest is a good thing. Helping to fight AIDS in Africa, for example, meets both American humanitarian and policy goals. Sending aid to Arab nations that teach in their schools, broadcast in their media and preach from their minbars that America and Israel are evil and must be destroyed serves neither of these objectives. At the very least, U.S. aid to Arab states should be tied to a change in ideological and theological behavior in those countries.
Lack of aid isn't the problem. The oil resources of many Arab states give them more than enough to care for their own people. Lack of modernity is the problem. So long as many Arab states continue in their feudalistic mentality and suppression of half their population (women), prosperity and the "blessings of liberty" will not wish to pay them a visit.
No matter how these numerous uprisings turn out -- and some could turn out very badly for the people of those nations and for U.S. policy -- America's policy of arms sales to Arab states definitely needs to change.
Cal Thomas' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.