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Trump's $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was all smoke and mirrors, defense expert argues

The centerpiece of President Trump's friendly trip to Saudi Arabia was the signing of arms deals purportedly worth $110 billion now and up to $350 billion over 10 years. On Monday, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency reported that the State Department had signed off on a chunk of that deal, $1.4 billion worth of "possible" military sales to the Saudis — $662 million for radar systems, ammunition, trucks, and technical support, and $750 million for military training programs. The key word is "possible," argues Bruce Riedel, a veteran former CIA officer and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. For the most part, "there is no deal. It's fake news." Riedel explains:

I've spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. ... The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them "intended sales." None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration. ... What the Saudis and the administration did is put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray that as a deal. Even then the numbers don't add up. It's fake news. [Riedel, Brookings Institution]

Moreover, Riedel adds, even if the Saudis agreed to buy $110 billion worth of weapons, they couldn't pay for them, given the low oil prices. The Saudis are struggling to make payments on a huge 2012 deal negotiated by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he said, and that only went through because the Obama administration also signed a big deal with Israel. Saudi Arabia will buy billions worth of munitions, because "the Royal Saudi Air Force needs more munitions to continue the air bombardment of the Arab world's poorest country," Yemen, Riedel says, but "you will know the Trump deal is real when Israel begins to ask for a package to keep the Israeli Defense Forces' qualitative edge preserved."

Riedel isn't the only skeptic of the new Saudi arms package, though clearly all parties involved believe talking it up is good for business. You can read his entire argument at the Brookings Institution.