The Realist and Neoconservative Views on the Saudi Arms Sale


Col. Pat Lang has written two informative blog posts about the arms sale.  In the first, Lang reminds his readers that the sale is a commercial transaction, not foreign aid. And on attempts to put the arms sale in the context of the “Iranian threat,” Lang quips, “The Iranian threat?  Oh, yes, of course…  Somehow I think this has much to do with ‘commissions’ passed around in the royal family/courtier crowd.  5% of 90 billion plus will go a long way.”

In his second post, Lang addresses the codependent U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The US and SA align themselves more or less on parallel courses in the ME because the two countries have quite a few parallel interests, even though in many ways their philosophies are at odds.  The same thing is true of Pakistan and the US, as well as quite a few other places.

And, we need the money.


The $60 billion arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia—which, if completed, would be the largest single foreign arms deal in history—has drawn its fair share of media attention.

The sale includes 70 upgraded F-15s, 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawk helicopters and 36 Little Bird helicopters. By all accounts, this would significantly boost Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself against a conventional, land-based attack and would give the kingdom considerable power projection beyond its borders.

David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, offered his analysis of what the arms sale means for Washington’s Iran policy.

On his Foreign Policy blog, Rothkopf writes:

This deal is the latest example of behavior suggesting that the nuclearization of Iran is all over but for the bomb building in the eyes of U.S. and regional strategists. As soon as it became clear that the United States and its allies would play along with Iranian stalling games, and as it appeared less and less likely to all concerned that the Obama administration would actually take military action to stop the Iranian program, the mindset shifted.


Of course, the result [of the arms deal] is a much closer relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis which has significant implications for other U.S. relationships in the region, e.g. with Israel. And certainly much of our future planning with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be oriented toward maintaining the kind of presence that will enable us to use posts there as part of the larger Iran containment strategy.

Rothkopf warns the containment and deterrence policy could result in a conventional or even nuclear arms race, noting the irony that the U.S. “seems on the verge of okaying the biggest arms deal in American history to the country that provided fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, much of the critical funding for al Qaeda and was home to Osama bin Laden.” Rothkopf believes the Obama administration’s policy on Iran’s nuclear program has shifted and is now focused on containment and balancing against a increasingly powerful Tehran. He also argues that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would only postpone Tehran’s construction of a nuclear weapon.

This analysis fits with Washington’s long-standing policy of deterrence and containment. Arms sales to Taiwan and South Korea could be seen in the much the same light.

Conversely the authors of the Contentions blog, hosted by the neoconservative Commentary Magazine, see the shift to containment as a death-blow to their attempts to urge the U.S. or Israel into a military confrontation with Iran.

J.E. Dyer writes that while news outlets are covering the arms sale as a sign of Washington shifting to a containment strategy with Iran, the sale is really no such thing.

Dyer concludes the analysts have it all wrong and are focusing on the wrong upcoming war:

Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. ” Iran’s moves against Israel. ”
    Mostly what I see is U.S. moves against Iran : for a few decades now. Economic Warfare : Sanctions. And that lovely campaign to posit the people without nuclear arms as ‘the real threat.’
    Now, I’m not saying that the nation which is the recipient of stupendous amounts of military ‘aid’ which exceeds that lavished on the continent of Africa is NOT ‘being moved upon by Iran’.
    Particulars of the allegation would be nice.

  2. I’d like to stop selling arms to everybody over there, although the money derived from sales and the jobs created here are nice. But so long as we are arming Israel (and basically paying for it as well), it seems to me that we ought to sell weapons to the Arabs. The more the merrier, given the cash and jobs I mentioned at the outset.

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