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Arms bail out. - Printable Version

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Arms bail out. - Magda Hassan - 20-09-2010

The year 2009 was a bad one for the United States. And no, I’m not talking about unemployment, or poverty, or home foreclosures, or banks too-big-to-fail, or any of the other normal bad news. I’m talking about something serious. As the world’s leading maker of things that go bang in the night (and I don’t mean Hollywood films), we took a hit last year. A big one. The planet’s leading arms-maker and dealer -- that’s us by a country mile -- with a 68.4% cut of the global market in 2008, had the value of its arms deals drop by almost $16 billion in the gloomy economic times of 2009. Consider it a blow to one of the few things Americans do well these days. Fortunately, there was a simpatico country rich enough to bail us out. I’m referring to Saudi Arabia, which is now doing for U.S. arms what the Chinese have long done for U.S. Treasury bills.
For a whopping $60 billion -- yes, Virginia, that is “billion” -- the Saudis, according to Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, have agreed to buy 84 F-15s and 175 helicopters as part of the largest arms deal in U.S. history. In addition, the sale, soon to be presented to Congress for approval by the White House, could end up involving a supplemental $30 billion deal “to upgrade the Saudi kingdom’s naval forces and yet another for new missile-defense systems.” (You didn’t even know that Saudi Arabia had a navy, did you?) This, Lobe writes, will “by itself exceed the value of all conventional arms transfer agreements signed worldwide by developing and developed countries alike in 2009 -- $57.5 billion.” And there’s even an added bonus for U.S. arms makers. Though this sale is theoretically aimed at Iran, the Saudi military, for all its weaponry, has shown little urge to fight, or to fight effectively. This will, however, surely mean billions more in compensatory U.S. weaponry flowing to Israel. (And keep in mind that, after years of disastrous war and occupation unleashed by the Bush administration's 2003 invasion, the American-built Iraqi military may soon offer U.S. arms-makers thanks in the form of major new tank and plane orders.)
Consider it then a rescue package in tight times, part of a spectacle in which the U.S. and some American jobs are being saved from the brink by client states. Consider it part of a larger spectacle of American decline, barely acknowledged in official Washington, something energy expert Michael Klare, author most recently of the invaluable book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, has been following for a while. So it’s only appropriate that TomDispatch launches a “Decline of America” week with him writing the first article on the subject. Watch for pieces by Dilip Hiro and me later in the week, and if you have a moment, catch Klare discussing China's energy superpowerdom on Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here. Tom