Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are less than 72 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign and our independent journalism needs your help today.
If you value our work, please support Common Dreams. This is our hour of need.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

"Regardless of what ultimately happened to [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi," writes Hartung, "continuing U.S. arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia under current circumstances is immoral."

"Regardless of what ultimately happened to [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi," writes Hartung, "continuing U.S. arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia under current circumstances is immoral." (Photo: .o.y.a via Shutterstock)

Jobs Are No Excuse for Arming a Murderous Regime

There are other ways to promote jobs in the United States that do not involve accepting blood money from the Saudi regime.

William Hartung

 by The Lobe Log

If the Saudi government is indeed behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi there should be consequences—political, military, economic, and reputational.

Unfortunately, President Trump begs to differ. His reaction to questions about whether the United States would cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia if Riyadh is proven to be behind the killing of Khashoggi has been to say that he does not want to jeopardize the alleged $110 billion in arms deals his administration has struck with the Saudi regime, and the U.S. jobs that come with them.

In his recent interview with CBS 60 Minutes, Trump specifically cites the needs of U.S. weapons manufacturers as reasons to keep U.S. arms flowing to the Saudi regime, even if it ends up being responsible for the murder of Khashoggi:

They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it…I tell you what I don’t wanna do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these [companies]…I don’t wanna hurt jobs. I don’t wanna lose an order like that.

Trump tells CBS’s Leslie Stahl that “there are other ways of punishing” Saudi Arabia without cutting of U.S. arms sales, but he fails to specify what those might be.

Regardless of what ultimately happened to Khashoggi, continuing U.S. arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia under current circumstances is immoral. Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only may be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in its three-and-one-half-year military intervention in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs and combat aircraft and U.S. refueling and targeting assistance.

The Khashoggi case merely underscores the approach of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the power behind the thrown in Riyadh who is the most ruthless and reckless leader in Saudi history. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), one of a growing list of congressional critics of the regime, has asserted that the actions of the Saudi/UAE coalition in Yemen “look like war crimes.” And the impacts go well beyond the indiscriminate air strikes that have targeted hospitals, civilian market places, funerals, a wedding, and most recently a school bus carrying 40 children. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also spearheading a partial blockade that has made it extremely difficult to get urgently need humanitarian assistance to Yemenis who desperately need it, putting millions of people on the brink of starvation. And their bombings of water treatment plants and other civilian infrastructure are responsible for the most serious outbreak of cholera in recent memory, a totally preventable consequence of the war.

Even if it were acceptable to favor jobs over human rights in this case, the economic benefits are in fact marginal. Trump strongly implies that if the United States were to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the $110 billion arms “deal” he has made with Riyadh would be in jeopardy. But as the fact checker for The Washington Post has pointed out, the idea that there ever was a $110 billion arms deal is “fake news.” It is a public relations figure cooked up by the Trump administration that combines offers made under the Obama administration, a few new deals, and a long wish list of sales that may never materialize.

In reality, since Trump took office, Saudi Arabia has signed commitments for about $14.5 billion in U.S. weaponry, only slightly more than 10% of the $110 billion figure Trump boasts about at every opportunity.

To cite one pertinent example, the precision-guided bomb sale to Saudi Arabia that the Trump administration green-lighted last year will support at most a few thousand jobs in an economy that employs over 125 million people.

Military procurement generates fewer jobs than virtually any other form of economic activity, and many of the jobs associated with U.S. arms sales are created overseas in the purchasing nation as a condition of the sale. For example, as part of Mohammed bin Salman’s much-touted economic plan, the goal is to have a full 50% of the work generated by Saudi arms imports done in the kingdom by 2030. U.S. firms are already jumping to comply with this mandate by setting up subsidiaries in Saudi Arabia and signing off on the assembly of U.S.-supplied weapons there.

Trump’s claim that Russia or China will quickly swoop in to grab any arms deal the United States declines to conclude with the Saudi regime is also suspect. The Saudi arsenal is heavily dependent on U.S.- and UK-supplied weaponry. It would take many years and tens of billions of dollars to change course in any meaningful way—money that Riyadh can ill afford as it hemorrhages money for its brutal war in Yemen and tries to cope with unstable oil prices. It’s always possible that the Saudi military would make a token purchase from Russia or China to send a signal, but the idea that the United States would lose out on a huge volume of arms sales as a result is unlikely in the extreme.

There are other ways to promote jobs in the United States that do not involve accepting blood money from the Saudi regime. Congress should not be dissuaded from doing the right thing due to false claims about the economic benefits of the U.S.-Saudi arms trade.

The ball is now in the congressional court, where bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia is growing. Most recently the House is seeking to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen under the War Powers Resolution, an effort led by Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Adam Smith (D-WA) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of dozens of their colleagues. There will also be strong opposition to a long-discussed sale of precision-guided U.S. bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates once it comes up for formal consideration.

The case of Jamal Khashoggi is just one of many reasons for the United States to distance itself from the Saudi regime. The time to act is now.


© 2019 The Lobe Log

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·


Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


Grave Warnings as Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Threatens 'Future of Voting Rights'

"Buckle up," implores one prominent legal scholar. "An extreme decision here could fundamentally alter the balance of power in setting election rules in the states and provide a path for great threats to elections."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo