So this is the idea of balance in U.S. foreign policy: Arms for everyone.
First, the Bush Administration announces a $20 billion weapons sale to key Arab allies, and then, to mollify its chief partner in the Middle East, it unveils a $30 billion arms aid package for Israel.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees something wrong here.
The United States is delivering precisely the wrong sort of foreign aid. It is contributing further to the militarization of a region already armed to the teeth. And it is propping up regimes of a highly dubious nature.
All this is in the name of countering Iran. "'There is no question that, from an American point of view, the Middle East is a more dangerous region now even than it was 10 or 20 years ago and that Israel is facing a growing threat’ from Iran and its ally, Syria," The New York Times reports Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, as saying.
The weapons package for Israel underscores two realities of the aid that the United States proffers to the rest of the world: A huge amount goes to a few key countries, and a disproportionate amount is comprised of military support. The rest of the world can get in line for health, education, and other basic needs.
"A small handful of [countries] receive the largest share," says a recent Council on Foreign Relations analysis. "Israel and Egypt have traditionally been the single-largest recipients of U.S. aid, dating back to the 1978 Camp David peace accords between the two countries. For both countries, the majority of this is military aid$2.4 billion in military aid is requested for Israel in 2008 and $1.3 billion for Egypt. Afghanistan and Iraq, involved in massive U.S.-led nation-building efforts, and Pakistan, an important ally in the war on terrorism, also receive huge amounts of foreign aid."
Plus, is further weaponizing the Middle East that great an idea? Countries in the region squander a enormous amount on arms. Israel splurges an incredible 10 percent of its GDP on the military. But it isn’t alone in the area in such misplaced gluttony. A number of other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, had from 1998 to 2003 comparable or higher expenditures as a proportion of their economies, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Iran, that scourge of good-thinking nations, was nowhere near.) Why would the United States want to encourage Middle Eastern governments to militarize even more?
And that, too, regimes with such dubious records. Not only is the Saudi Arabia completely repugnant in its domestic policies, it is also actively destabilizing the Iraqi government because of its anti-Shiite bias. (See a recent New York Times story for details.)
The other Persian Gulf monarchies included in the $20 billion arms package look better only in comparison. As for Israel, its abuses in the Occupied Territories are too well known to go over again.
So, what can be the motivation of the Bush Administration in unveiling these arms deals? As W. Mark Felt’s character said in the movie (not the book): Follow the money.
"When the Bush administration first took office, it appointed thirty-two executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policymaking positions in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy (involved in nuclear weapons development), and the State Department," a World Policy Institute report stated a few years ago. "Since that time, the 'revolving door’ has continued to spin." During the 2004 presidential elections, arms manufacturers favored George W. Bush over John Kerry by a two-to-one margin in campaign contributions, the report pointed out.
They are being provided a good return on their investment. While the rest of us scrutinize the Bush Administration’s announcements, executives in the arms industry are quite certainly busy celebrating.