It looks like my post early this morning about arms sales and economic-political decision making had some pretty fantastic timing. Al-Jazeera and The Guardian are reporting that President Obama is on the verge of authorizing a record $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in which the US will sell the Saudis "as many as 84 new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and [...] three types of helicopters - 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds" as well as other sophisticated weapons systems.
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Monday, September 13, 2010
Posted by Alex Parets at 1:40 PM . Monday, September 13, 2010
There are some pretty interesting political questions and angles to this story. The first question: Why? The official explanation being bounced around by both administration officials and analysts is about countering growing Iranian influence in the region. This deal will modernize Saudi defense capabilities and advance short-range offensive capabilities. The administration is trying to use Saudi Arabia to balance Iranian power in the region (not necessarily a new idea). This deal will also deepen and further solidify US-Saudi Arabian cooperation in the Middle East for years to come, as the delivery of the entire package is expected to take roughly a quarter-century.
But why only F-15 aircraft? F-15's are one of the most successful fighter aircraft around (so they're dependable), but they aren't the most advanced nor newest toy on the market. They've been around since the early 1970's. Saudi Arabia has enough resources to splurge on top-caliber fighter aircraft and weapons systems, so money isn't particularly a constraint. Why not the F-22 or the F-35? It looks like Israeli influence played a strong role in preventing the transfer of newer long-distance aircraft with stealth technology to the Saudis as this would decrease Israeli primacy as far as weapons technology in the region. The Israelis also objected to including long-range capabilities on the F-15's that will be delivered as they sought to limit long-range strike capabilities by the Saudis, thus reducing the risk of a future Saudi air strike. Also, the Israelis have put in their own orders for the new stealthy F-35 which is another reason they don't want the US to also sell them to the Saudis.
What does the US get out of all this? Well, the administration will absolutely push the jobs angle pretty hard. During these slow economic times, with mid-term elections coming up in November and a 9.5% unemployment rate, the Obama administration will seek to sell this agreement to the American public by arguing that the deal will create about 75,000 jobs for Americans, although the majority of these jobs will be at companies like Boeing, GE, and Lockheed Martin. These companies don't typically hire construction workers, financial professionals, real estate agents or other employees from hard-hit sectors of the economy. These new jobs will go to highly skilled, college-educated workers, or the types of workers that already have good jobs in a sector with relatively low unemployment rates. Recent graduates in engineering, physics, project management and other aircraft-manufacturing related sectors will also benefit. Yes, there may be indirect employment gains in retail and other sectors as those 75,000 workers in those new jobs spend their salaries, but I wouldn't count on these new jobs to make much of an impact on aggregate demand or unemployment numbers. But that doesn't necessarily matter in the short run. In the eyes of the Obama administration, stronger military ties with Saudi Arabia, countering Iranian influence in the Middle East and the perception that new jobs for Americans are being created is enough of a reason to proceed with the agreement right now.