From The Foxhole: Arms Sales In The Middle East

Alex E. Limkin
4 min read
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It would be sufficiently callous of us to do nothing more than express deep concern regarding the massacring of regime protesters in Bahrain. But must we also supply the bullets and weaponry used by that regime to kill and terrorize its dissenting masses? Apparently so.

According to the
Congressional Research Service, since 2000, the United States made about $1.4 billion off of military sales to Bahrain. And we don’t just peddle to the Khalifa. In 2009 alone, the U.S. sold more than $16 billion in arms to other countries in the region, including $1.9 billion to Egypt and $2.9 billion to Saudi Arabia. It should come as no surprise, then, that tear gas canisters used to suppress the revolutionary masses in Egypt were stamped “Made in the USA.” It would seem that any country—regardless of human rights abuses—can line up for weapons from our Department of Defense.

The State Department’s assistant secretary for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, was part of an
October Washington briefing about a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia. He was asked if there was any talk of eventual sales to Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi. He responded: “I’m not going to go into the substance of the discussions, other than to say that I thought it was a productive visit that helped move the relationship forward.”

If asked the same question now in the wake of Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown on his people, we can only hope that the secretary’s answer could be an unequivocal “no.” Would it be?

Eerily, Iran still fields 44 U.S.-made F-14 fighter jets sold to the Shah in 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power. Of these aircraft, 20 remained operational as of 2009, according to the
Aerospace Source Book . How many weapons of our own creation may yet be turned upon us? Or upon our children?

Jimmy Carter said, "We cannot have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms."

We go before the world and prosecute a peremptory war on terrorism, daring our neighbors to find fault with our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet we stand idly by while the Khalifa in Bahrain, our political friend, terrorizes its people with bullets supplied by our own arsenals. It is terrorism when a government beats and shoots its own people, scatters them in bloody shrieking masses through the city streets with volleys of gunfire. They have merely asserted what all free people assume as a right—the right to free assembly. How does this terrorism not incite our fury?

How can the killing and maiming of peaceful protesters fall short of qualifying as heinous and barbarous conduct? How many Bahrainis must die in order for us to consider the regime’s actions outrageous and reprehensible?

I am waiting for President Obama to express a greater sentiment than deep concern for the murdering and maiming of peaceful protesters in the streets and plazas of Bahrain. Meanwhile, our Navy’s Fifth Fleet floats idly at anchor in the harbor, its sailors and marines playing cards above the noise of a flowering democratic movement being stamped down with tyrannical force and carnage.

The tree of liberty is falling in our midst, being struck down in our midst, and we look away, our hands reassured and comforted by the spoils in our pocket and the unimpeded flowing of black oil into our tankers. We claimed to want a democratic movement to spread in the Middle East. Now that one has, we close our eyes as it is dismembered. These bullets, built in America, shipped with love to our Bahraini friends in power, should be tearing at our own hearts.

Alex Escué Limkin served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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