Half-witted Aaron Sorkin TV show rants aside, the United States is number one in plenty of global categories. Unfortunately, one of those is weapons sold to other countries—and there’s very little competition. The New York Times reports:
Foreign arms sales by the United States jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, about 35 percent, even as the global weapons market remained flat and competition among suppliers increased, a new congressional study has found.
American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, bolstered by multibillion-dollar agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Those deals and others ensured that the United States remained the single largest provider of arms around the world last year, controlling just over 50 percent of the market.
The luckiest recipient of our ordnance largesse was South Korea, which is looking to beef up its military capacity after increased aggression from the north. But note those other clients: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These are our purported allies, but recently they’ve acted against our interests, deserting the fight against the Islamic State to blow apart Yemen and arming Syrian rebels groups that include unabashed Salafists. They’re also some of the biggest supporters of terrorism in the world, with extreme Wahhabist Islam integrated into the Saudi government and Gulf donors funneling money to everyone from the Islamic State to al-Qaeda.
Yet the weapons continue to flow.
This is par for the course. Over the past 60 years, Saudi Arabia has built one of the most lethal militaries in the Middle East thanks to the generosity of the United States. The Kingdom struck $80 billion in arms deals with Washington between 1950 and 2006, and an additional $90.4 billion has been approved since 2010 under the purview of our Nobel Peace Prize-winning, gun control-loving president. The Obama administration has also announced that it will begin selling drones to our Gulf allies. Today, Saudi Arabia is the biggest arms importer in the world, and many of those weapons come from American vendors.
It’s also an archaic monarchy with no conception of democracy and an abysmal human rights record. That shouldn’t rule it out for American friendship—sometimes we need to work with unsavory characters—but its aforementioned record of poking us in the eyes should. How difficult would it be to impose prohibitions on arms sales to the Gulf states until they crack down on terrorism and rejoin the fight against the Islamic State? We’d need to corral other nations that deal with the Saudis, particularly France, but if we can enforce sanctions on the Iranian economy then why can’t we limit weapons sales to Saudi Arabia?
One final question. As the New York Times points out, the United States is responsible for half of the global weapons market. As al-Nusra steals our equipment in Syria and ISIS drives our Humvees around Iraq, is the dubious honor of “#1 arms dealer” really something we want?