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American Foreign Policy Cannot Be A Force For Good If It Arms Despots

30/05/2017 11:48 BST | Updated 30/05/2017 11:48 BST
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Attention is focusing on over $100bn worth of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, understandably so. The Saudi dictatorship backed by the United States is given diplomatic and military cover as it razes Yemen to the ground.

If you're somehow glued in the myth that the U.S. foreign policy is a force for democracy, a glance at the list of U.S. arms exports should rid you of those illusions.

Consider the facts. The Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen has now taken the lives of more than 10,000 civilians and plunged the country into a humanitarian catastrophe. Bombing raids have pummeled funerals, medical centers, schools, and homes; Médecins Sans Frontières, itself, was targeted by airstrikes, describing a pattern of such violations as "a total disregard for the rules of war." Last week, rather than condemning this dirty war, the response from the U.S. government was predictably cynical. "Today truly is a historic moment in the U.S.-Saudi relations," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ignoring the carnage in Yemen just as much as the Saudis. The unconditional support comes at the time when a UN panel of experts described the pattern of the Saudis' indiscriminate bombing as "widespread and systematic."

Why? Future weapon contracts doubtless play a role.

Meanwhile, enabled by American ineptitude, the Saudi with the rest of the Gulf monarchies have backed militant Islamists in Syria -- and continue to spread an extremely intolerant variant of Islam. Other countries might swiftly be transformed into pariah states for such blatant violations of international law, but not the Gulf monarchies, which the U.S. will supply advanced F-15 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, and hundreds of armored vehicles.

Bahrain's repressive regime much like Saudi Arabia bans political parties; executes political dissidents; deprives women of their most basic rights, and treats activism as equivalent to terrorism. And yet Bahrain is rewarded by the removal of all human rights conditions as a prerequisite to access American advanced weapons as a gesture of solidarity to confront Iran.

Then there's Egypt, where dissenters are banished, and political prisoners are languishing in jail. It tops the list for being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Yet, this is one of the biggest markets for U.S. arms for decades.

Such appalling expressions of the U.S.'s role in the world are hardly new: the killing fields of East Timor are all too familiar with the disingenuous Machiavellianism that defines the reckless American arms trade strategy. With up to 200,000 people slaughtered after the invasion by Suharto's brutal regime, the U.S. was budding the line to flog his war machine with arms.

And for those with short memories, the U.S. was happy to sell weapons to Saddam Hussein during his war against Iran -- one of the Middle East's bloodiest conflicts.

Pundit after pundit has built a career on the back of a fantasy that America is a champion of democracy. They spent years harping on how America should take the lead to remove serial human rights abusers. Yet most of those same pundits remain disturbingly silent on the hypocrisy of America's support for unelected despots.

This isn't just about the arms trade, of course: it's about the very nature of U.S. foreign policy. These repressive regimes aren't just buying weapons; they're also buying political immunity that undermines America's already bleeding legitimacy. Yes, the defense industries provide jobs, but according to the non-governmental Campaign Against the Arms Trade, there's substantial overlap in the skill sets between the arms and renewable energy sectors. Instead of supporting an industry that feeds weapon-hungry regimes, we could retool the economy to help save our planet. Is the prospect of runaway climate change a threat to our security? I would say so.

In the meantime, the U.S. arms industry reveals that democracy is alternatively held up as a justification or mocked as irrelevant in American foreign policy. Just look at the "leader of the free world," handling the glowing orb with a tyrant who believes in chopping off people's heads.