President Donald Trump is in the Middle East and his White House would like to use this trip to promote his accomplishments and step away from the Russia story. Today’s headlines are less singular in their coverage as compared to last week when new Russia investigation news broke every day. Fox News is covering China’s response to a weekend article from the New York Times that US spies had been executed in China as a means of crippling the US spy network. The New York Times has moved on to covering Trump’s attempt at beginning to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. CNN is reporting on new documentation that shed light on former NSA Michael Flynn’s lying to investigators about his relationship with foreign governments. But the biggest news over the weekend was Trump’s securing a $110 billion deal with Saudi Arabia that will extend over 10 years.
At Trump’s first stop abroad, he announced a $110 billion deal over 10 years. Saudi Arabia will receive military vehicles including tanks and naval ships as well as missile defense systems and upgrades to the Saudis’ intelligence network. Some components of the deal were put into place during the Obama administration (conventional weapons) and some were added by Trump’s administration (missile defense). According to Trump, the deal is designed to bolster Saudi Arabia’s military might in the region, particularly against Iran, and also provide jobs back home. He said, “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Unlike last week, all news sources agree on the facts of this deal.
Fox News dedicated a greater portion of its coverage to the three welcoming ceremonies Trump received and the significance of counterbalancing Iran.
The New York Times and Washington Post focused more on the fact that this was a continuation of the Obama administration’s deals with Saudi Arabia. The New York Times ran an article on how Jared Kushner made a phone call to Lockheed Martin’s CEO to lower the cost for the Saudis.
By Monday, much of the coverage on the arms deal had shifted to the next news cycle. The most prominent remnant of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a photo of him placing his hands on a glowing orb with the Egyptian President and Saudi King.
The White House is in need of positive coverage after last week’s events. This trip through the Middle East is an opportunity to showcase that President Trump can create deals. Across the political spectrum, there is agreement that the $110 billion deal is not fake news, that parts of it were in place during the Obama administration, and that the added elements and decision to put the deal at the front of the trip highlight Trump’s shift from the Obama administration to a more bellicose posture.
A Fox viewer may view the Saudi visit by Trump as a return to the United States being respected abroad and also taking a more forceful approach to the threat of a nuclear Iran. A New York Times reader may view the visit as a gaudy festival resulting in a deal that was mostly a continuation of the Obama era with the exception of adding elements opposed by the previous administration due to their involvement in human rights violations.
But part of decoding this is determining whether the deal brings us closer to our goals for a world we want to live in.
Consider who is impacted by this? $110 billion of weapons is significant enough to assume there will be some impact. There is a record of human rights violations in Yemen related to prior US arms deals with Saudi Arabia resulting in 10,000 lives lost in the last two years and 17 million people facing famine. The rhetoric also focuses on Iran, so is this deal neutralize Iran? Millions of people in famine is a fact. Iran conforming to the United States’ wishes is speculation and lacks evidence based on past deals. Also, Trump says this will create jobs but has yet to provide any detail on how many or where. Nobody else from the Administration has commented on this claim either.
The deal is worth evaluating because billions of dollars of weapons will be introduced into a very volatile region over the next ten years. War could result in loss of millions of lives and increased hardship of countless more. If that argument is not resonant, consider that it could also disrupt oil supply that would cause an economic catastrophe. It is clear, at least in part, who will be adversely impacted by this. It is less clear how anyone outside of Lockheed Martin benefits. If the goal is to reduce the likelihood of war, why should this be supported? The Trump administration is proud of it, are you?