On May 20, President Trump signed a long-awaited $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The total for the package is over ten years, but the first $110 billion is for immediate trade between the United States and Saudi Arabia for tanks, helicopters, ships and a missile-defense system, among “security tools.” While the deal has been in the process for weeks, the final announcement comes as Trump takes his first international trip, spending the first days in Riyadh with the Saudi royal family.
In truth, the weapons deal is not all that surprising. The very founding of Saudi Arabia, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, saw a victorious British empire install a family of corrupt landlords to rule the area in the hopes of controlling the region’s oil reserves. While the United States has been involved in Saudi oil production since the 1930s, the real shift in relationship came following the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah. With the Shah no longer able to serve as the imperialists’ puppet, the royals of Saudi Arabia were promoted to fill the space of suppressing progressive movements in the region.
This relationship has continued for the last 40 years, from Saudi support to so-called jihadis overthrowing the socialist Afghan state in the 1970s, to hosting U.S. troops preparing to invade Iraq, to putting down the progressive uprising in Bahrain in the Arab Spring. Throughout all this, Saudi Arabia has also been a reliable buyer of U.S. weapons.
The Saudi monarchy made clear that they were hoping to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries after relations with the Obama administration started to sour. Their desire is to become the undisputed military center and power player in the region’s politics. Despite campaign rhetoric that criticized Hillary Clinton’s closeness to the Saudi monarchy, now in office Trump has shown an openness to the same sort of arrangements. With his anti-Iran rhetoric, his bombing of Syria and his signing what has been called “the biggest weapons deal in U.S. history,” Trump has held up the imperialist status quo in the Middle East. (The biggest winners in this deal will be Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon.)
For its part, Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its ability to equip the armed proxies who are fighting to bring down the independent state of Syria and to leverage its military power against Iran.
The other truth, barely mentioned in Trump’s Saudi Arabia trip, is that many of these weapons will be used to continue the brutal assault on Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its coalition of Gulf states have been bombing Yemen constantly since 2015 to crush the Houthi rebels. Many of the bombings have been blatant violations of international law and human rights, targeting schools, hospitals and social gatherings.
Liberation News reported previously about the blockade that has essentially shut down the port city of Hodeidah. The criminal shutdown of this Red Sea port city by the Saudis has led to food and medicine shortages. As of last month, UN officials reported that approximately two-thirds of the population, or nearly 19 million Yemenis, were in need of emergency assistance. Children too hungry to cry are dying in hospitals across the country where at least 7 million are at risk of famine.
The truth is that this newest deal is a another death sentence for the Yemeni people. Instead of the billions going to fund needed social services in the United States, or to pay reparations to the countries devastated by U.S. military war and aggression, more weapons are being sent overseas to terrorize a people trapped in a humanitarian catastrophe. It is one more example of how the needs for profit and domination always more important than human needs or rights under capitalism and imperialism.
The progressive and people’s movements in the United States must continue to demand the end to all U.S.-funded interventions. No wars, no bases, no sanctions and no arms deals. U.S. out of the Middle East!