The $63 Billion Sham

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States wants to send $63 billion in military aid and weapons to the Middle East to "bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran."

Talk about wriggling in quicksand. Having destroyed Iraq to save us from horrors that did not exist, Rice now wants to save us from Iran's future nukes by selling American weapons of mass destruction. Over the next decade, the Bush administration wants to give Israel $30 billion in military aid, a nearly 43 percent increase over what that nation received over the last 10 years, according to The New York Times. We want to give $20 billion to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. We want to give Egypt $13 billion.

Do you feel safe?

"This is throwing bad money after worse money," said Frida Berrigan, senior program associate at the Arms and Security Project of the New America Foundation. The program was formerly known as the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute. "You can see the whole arms package as a buyoff of Arab nations for what we've done in Iraq.

"Justifying the sales because these countries feel threatened by Iran doesn't hold water. Iran is five to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. That gives the United States and its partners more than enough time to come up with diplomatic solutions," Berrigan said. "This is just going to reinforce Iran's desire to have a nuclear weapon."

The United States had already set records for global arms sales. The New York Times reported in November that the Bush administration and American military contractors doubled arms sales from $10.6 billion to $21 billion from September 2005 to September 2006. Berrigan estimates that the latest proposal will increase military aid and weaponry by another 25 percent.

This is a bipartisan craziness that never ended despite the end of the Cold War. Under the dual guise of national security and protecting American jobs, the first President Bush and President Clinton aggressively promoted US arms sales to more than twice their level of the last years of the Cold War.

Lawrence Korb, assistant defense secretary under President Reagan, told the Globe in 1996, "The brakes are off the system. . . . There is no coherent policy on the transfer of arms. It has become a money game; an absurd spiral in which we export arms only to have to develop more sophisticated ones to counter those spread out all over the world. . . . It is a frightening trend that undermines our moral authority in the New World Order."

The absurd spiral did nothing for regional stability, democracy or stop terrorism from spreading to American shores. Saudi Arabia was a big buyer under Clinton. It remained a "problematic ally," according to the 9/11 commission. This week, the US envoy to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, could not decide whether Saudi Arabia was "a great ally" or "undermining" the United States in Iraq.

There is no hint of a coherent policy. Under the president, 80 percent of nations that received arms from America in 2003 were classified by the State Department as being either undemocratic or having a poor human rights record, which covers all the Arab countries in the new deal. Israel is a democracy, but in its 2006 country profile, the State Department cites a source that determined that 322 of 660 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military "were not engaged in hostilities when killed and 141 were minors."

This latest deal is so over the top that Israel is not opposing the $33 billion to Arab states because it gets $30 billion to maintain its military edge. En route to the Middle East this week, Rice denied that the military package was an attempt to buy allies with bombs. She also denied that the United States was relaxing its standards for democracy and human rights.

But a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit said that "the weak response in the Middle East to pressures for democratization, as well as the experience with imported political change in Iraq, is making a mockery of George Bush's 'freedom' agenda." Reuters this week quoted Paul Salem, director of the Middle East Center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as saying that the arms deal meant Bush's effort to spread democracy in the region was "more than dead."

Berrigan said, "We've created a black hole in what used to be a country and this is supposed to be the solution? More military aid and more high-tech weaponry? The best case scenario is that Congress exercises its power and keeps this from happening."

(c) 2007 The Boston Globe

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