New York.--This is from a series that ran in the New York Times last week titled "Dwindling Riches" on the financial decline of Saudi Arabia: "Today, the United States is making every effort to ensure that the Saudis can buy on credit what they once bought for cash."
And what are we lending the Saudis dollars to pay for? Do you really need to ask? Weapons, of course!
"Many officials of the Clinton administration say they see the sales as crucial to keeping American arms makers afloat while the American military shrinks," reported the Times. "They are confident the Saudis can afford their pending purchases, which include $30 billion in American weapons."
Leaving aside the fact that such confidence is not shared by private banks, which is why the government has to honor Saudi credit, the larger question is: Who will these weapons end up being used against?
* Israel? Yes, the Saudi royal family is perfectly capable of hitting Israel or, more likely, distributing the arms to other Arabs to do their dirty work for them.
* The people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Yes, sooner or later, all the sheikhs with degrees from the University of Southern California will have to turn guns on their own people (18 million of them) to maintain the feudal rule we have been supporting all these years. We'll probably help them, the sheikhs. The oil, you know. (It goes without saying that the money the Saudis spend on weapons is money that is not available for education and social services for Saudis who are not related to the king.)
* The Egyptian people? Maybe. The weapons could be put at the disposal of the Egyptian government in the coming war against religious revolutionaries in that country of 55 million people. Or, the American weaponry will be seized by (or sold to) fundamentalists from one country or another and moved into Egypt and be used against the Egyptian government and Egyptians resisting a fundamentalist revolution.
* Us. Yes, again sooner or later, many of the weapons we distribute to tyrants around the world (and the training we provide to make sure the killing is efficient) will be turned on us -- by terrorists, by anti-modern zealots, by the bad tyrants who overthrow our "good" tyrants.
If there is anything new about this, it is only the amounts of money involved and the fact that, after all these years of being shaken down by the Saudis, we are now going to pay them to do it to us. These kinds of weapons sales, based on the Nixon-Kissinger thesis that other people will do our fighting for us, are what led us to glorious triumph with the Shah in Iran and will, I fear, one day end with Stinger missiles, originally sent to Afghanistan for use against Soviet jets, roaring up the tailpipes of U.S. airliners. The government of Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the man we loved as a Russian-killer, is now supplying men and weapons to Muslim separatists fighting in India.
The difference, as shown in the Times series, is that the numbers will be bigger now, partly because we have taken over the arms business of our biggest competitor, which was the Soviet Union. The American market share in arms sales to non-Western countries has gone from 13 percent a few years ago to 57 percent now -- and growing. This must be part of what President Clinton calls "growing" the economy.
The use of the phrase "officials of the Clinton administration" is just another indication of how bipartisan is the organization President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex." It was President Kennedy who set sales bureaus up in the Pentagon to help the U.S. trade balance, and now it is another young Democratic president who is, in effect, inviting foreign military organizations to fill in the gaps left by the post-Cold War downsizing of U.S. armed forces.
Well, business is business -- that's the bloody truth. Oh, did I mention that the Saudis, like the Israelis, will not be paying back the loans -- or many of them? The reason the U.S. government is handling this piece of Saudi banking is that private banks do not believe the debts will be repaid.
No, we will be forgiving the loans a few years from now when there is a credit or cash crisis in the kingdom -- if it still exists. When the kingdom collapses, the successor government will not even pretend to pay us back. We will forgive friendly military pseudo-democrats. Unfriendly fundamentalists will not even talk to us.
Forgiving loans, of course, is a way of hiding the real size of U.S. military spending, not all of which originates in the U.S. itself anymore. And, when the weapons we are selling now are turned against us, we will have to increase that budget to protect ourselves against our own bullets and rockets. This is called "national security."
Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.