Intel: How White House trumps up US arms sales to Saudi Arabia

al-monitor US President Donald Trump holds a chart of military hardware sales as he welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, March 20, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Nov 20, 2018

US military ties with Saudi Arabia, under harsh scrutiny after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, aren’t all they’re trumped up to be. That’s according to a new report from the Center for International Policy (CIP), an anti-war Washington think tank.

Why it matters: US President Donald Trump has said he’s not willing to let Khashoggi’s death get in the way of a touted $110 billion arms deal with Riyadh inked during a trip to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.

But the CIP report concludes that the United States has only implemented $14.5 billion worth of arms deals with Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. And the relationship faces even more headwinds as Congress debates bipartisan legislation to suspend bomb sales to Saudi Arabia over mounting civilian casualties in the Yemen war.

It’s the economy, stupid: Trump’s main argument for keeping US arms deals to Saudi Arabia intact is to protect up to one million American jobs — a number the president appeared to inflate over the course of the Khashoggi probe. But CIP estimates that Riyadh’s arms purchases have only supported 20,000 to 40,000 US jobs over the past decade, a small fraction of what the White House has claimed.

Reuters reported in October that US defense contractor Lockheed Martin saw less than 1,000 American jobs created from Trump’s 2017 deal and up to 10,000 jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Recommendations: The report calls on the United States to use its arms relationship with Saudi Arabia to create leverage to curtail civilian casualties in Yemen and engage in a full-throated probe of Khashoggi’s killing. “Many of the jobs sustained by Saudi arms sales would not be at risk if specific deals were to be cancelled. Defense firms with huge backlogs from contracts with the Pentagon would simply shift many of the workers involved to other projects,” the report says, citing the production of Paveway laser-guided bombs in Arizona and M-1 tanks in Ohio.

What’s next: Look for Congress to further restrict arms sales as pressure builds on both sides of the aisle to end US involvement in the Yemen war.

Know more: Check out Jack Detsch’s latest on how Saudi Arabia is looking past US companies when it comes to arms sales.

-Jack Detsch

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