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May232017

Trump's Middle East Tour: The Military-Industrial Complex is Alive and Well

President Donald J. Trump is in the middle of his International tour. He’s already sold $110 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in a deal that is expected to providefighter jets, tanks, combat ships and anti-missile defense systems.”   His economic advisor, Stephen Schwarzman has made a deal for $20 billion in infrastructure investment between his own company and the Saudis. He managed to frame the difficulty with Islamic extremism in mostly military terms and somehow blame most of terrorism on Iran—a Shia nation who has been helping the Syrians fight ISIS. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda are fundamentalist Sunni terror groups, many of whose members and even leaders are from Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism, or Salafism, has been the official Muslim doctrine, endorsed by the country’s royal family, and the starting point for extremist views. Trump presided over a partial Saudi-Israel rapprochement, which is based on the two countries’ mutual hatred of Iran. During his speech to the Saudis and 49 other Sunni Muslim countries, Trump praised Bahrain’s fight against terrorism, which is composed as much of tyrannical imprisonment of opposition leaders and members of its Shia majority as of anything else, and Saudi Arabia’s fight against “terror” in Yemen, which has been condemned as war crimes by most of the world. All of this while Iran re-elected a moderate president, who staked his reputation on the success of the nuclear deal that Israel opposes and Trump has threatened to back out of.

President Trump has turned foreign diplomacy into deal-making in the interests of selling arms and bringing financial investments to his wealthy business cronies (we don't know if his own company’s business interests, or those of his son-in-law Jared Kushner have also profited from these types of deals). As his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has said, U.S. foreign policy under Trump is concerned with what profits America, not what agrees with American values. And profiting America means profiting big business and arms manufacturers.

There’s a lot wrong with the president’s approach to foreign policy. The Sunni-Shia feud in the Middle East is one which the United States has never understood and has a record of supporting whichever side allows us to buy cheap oil and agrees to say nice things about us or allow us to use its country for military bases. Never mind if their internal politics creates and in some cases supports the development of the very terrorist organizations that have attacked us in the past and continue to pose a threat.

Most Americans, even liberal media pundits applauded Donald Trump’s choice of Tillerson, Mattis, and McMasters for his chief foreign policy cabinet officers. But Tillerson represents commercial pragmatism taken to the extreme—a man who opposed acknowledgement of climate change when it served his company’s interests to do so and agreed with it when it served him to do so. He is a man who was adept at striking deals with Vladimir Putin and other autocrats and dictators in order to obtain oil rights for his company, Exxon Mobile. Generals Mattis and McMaster may have served their country honorably, but they see the world in terms of military strategy, not peaceful diplomacy. These points of view, combined with Kushner’s and Trump’s emphasis on negotiating shrewd business deals for the financial establishment, are what have determined our country’s foreign policy on this first presidential international trip. The danger is that this is both a morally bankrupt policy agenda and a short-sighted recipe for disaster based upon a narrow view of the Middle East and a desire for immediate financial profits.

Reader Comments (3)

...all of which makes for hopeful anticipation of the words Pope Francis might say when meeting with Trump in Rome in a few hours today. (5/23/2017)
Casey, your details are astounding. You really should be writing for Atlantic Monthly. I know your sources are gathered from multiple places, but I'd love to be able to click to some of those sources when reading your pieces. Thank you for your in-depth research and your admirable perspective!

May 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

I agree with you in every respect, Casey. The damage done to the Middle East by our arming the Saudis to the tune of $110 billion is incalculable. The crass profiteering of the Trump family and of Tillerson et al from Trump deals makes a mockery of the most minimal ethical standards. I have no hope of his moving the Israelis and Palestinians closer to negotiations for peace.

May 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

In some part, I agree with the article. To say the Western world has never adequately understood the internecine conflicts of Islam is accurate. It's difficult for any nation to effectively intervene in the Middle East without a clear comprehension of the religious states and religious factions. Where I completely diverge from your viewpoint is when you start advocating for a diplomatic approach by Generals Mattis and McMaster. This is an unrealistic and ultimately harmful mind frame with which to approach the Middle East in general and Islam in particular. Pew polling clearly shows that about thirty percent of Muslims strongly believe that Sharia should be the law of the land for all countries. Of those people, the majority want to see Sharia implemented through the laws of Western civilization which currently exist. However, a minority, yet still numbering in the tens of millions, want to see Sharia installed as the primary state law through any means available, including violence. This is why it's important to have military minds defending the cause of democratic values while simultaneously working to thwart the political goals of Islamic fundamentalists and extremists. Without this sort of dogmatic approach, I have a great concern for those people who would be in gross violation of Sharia. The last thing I want to see is good people being pushed off of the tallest building in town for immorality as defined by Koranic doctrine. Tolerance, as you know, must be a two-way street, otherwise it quickly becomes abject servitude.

May 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike Wheeler

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