Obama’s Saudi Criticisms Don’t Stand in the Way of Record U.S. Weapons Sales

Obama’s Saudi Criticisms Don’t Stand in the Way of Record U.S. Weapons Sales
U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace, Riyadh, April 20, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

President Barack Obama has often been more upfront than past American presidents on what he thinks about the nature of ties with Saudi Arabia. Years before he came into office, he referred to Riyadh as one of America’s “so-called allies” in the Middle East. Last year, when asked by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull if the Saudis were America’s friends, Obama reportedly replied, “It’s complicated.” And he does little to hide his frustrations with the kingdom, whether over its export of Wahhabism around the world or its treatment of women at home, in interviews, as was the case with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year—the source of that comment to Turnbull—or in remarks attributed to members of his administration.

But while he says one thing, Obama has offered Saudi Arabia more weapons and military training than any other U.S. president in the history of an alliance that goes back to 1945—more than $115 billion over the course of his administration, according to a new report by William Hartung of the Center for International Policy in Washington. Forty-two separate deals since early 2009, Hartung wrote, “have covered the full range of military equipment, from small arms and ammunition, to howitzers, to tanks and other armored vehicles, to attack helicopters and combat aircraft, to bombs and air-to-ground missiles, to missile defense systems, to combat ships. The United States also provides billions in services, including maintenance and training, to Saudi security forces.”

Saudi Arabia is still waiting to receive the majority of this equipment, which “could tie the United States to the Saudi military for years to come.” Reuters first reported on Hartung’s findings earlier this week.

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