Click here to go to the Home Page Cover Story: Obama’s Ominous Arming of Despots in the Gulf - Left Margin By Carl Bloice, Editorial Board

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Just as the year was coming to a close, three prominent Iraqi political figures declared their country “stands on the brink of disaster.”  Rather than becoming a “a functioning democratic and nonsectarian state,” Iraq is on the path to becoming” a sectarian autocracy that carries with it the threat of devastating civil war,” asserted Ayad Allawi, named Prime Minister of the Iraqi Interim Government after the U.S. Invasion, Osama Al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Council of Representatives of Iraq, and the country’s finance minister, Rafe Al-Essawi, on the opinion page of the New York Times. The country “has become a battleground of sects, in which identity politics have crippled democratic development.”

The three men, leaders of the large political non-sectarian coalition Iraqiya that won the most seats in the 2010 election and represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis, said they are now “ being hounded and threatened” by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “who is attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state.” Maliki, the three said, issues directives to military units, makes unilateral military appointments, interferes with the courts, has complete control over Iraqi intelligence and national security agencies, and serves the interest of Maliki’s Dawa party that controls the Green Zone and intimidates political opponents.

Their country, the three politicians said, has become “the Iraq of our nightmares” in which “the nation’s wealth is captured by a corrupt elite rather than invested in the development of the nation.”

It would be hard to be more dismal that the picture Ali A. Allawi who previously served at different times has Iraq’s minister of trade, defense and finance in succession between 2003 and 2006 drew for Time’s readers this week:

”Agriculture has effectively collapsed; the great river systems of Mesopotamia have shriveled; trade routes based on Iraq’s unique geography have vanished; and transport links have atrophied. Merchants and entrepreneurs are merely recyclers of state-owned and state-generated wealth and a previously open and culturally and religiously accommodating society has been replaced by beleaguered communities locked in laagers.”

For this over one hundred thousand Iraqis have lost their lives since the United States, under a phony pretext, invaded Iraq, overthrew its government, killed its head of state, and occupied the country for over nine years.

The U.S. - led coalition forces have lost 4,805 lives in battle, 4,487 of them young women and men from the United States. The number of U.S. military personnel wounded during the conflict is officially 32,226. However, Dan Froomkin, senior Washington Correspondent for the Huffington Post, has written, “The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands - maybe even more than half a million - if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.”

Iraq has come a long way in nine years, from a time when the promoters of the U.S. invasion promised that the country’s oil production would cover the cost of the war, to the day the country – unable to keep the lights on all day and with an unstable and near prostrate government in Baghdad—can now purchase over $6 billion in arms, including 36 U.S. F-16 fighters.

The planes are said to be necessary to protect Iraq’s airspace. From whom? Iran? Kuwait?  (The U.S. recently sold 209 Patriot missiles to Kuwait for about $900 million).

Similar question can be asked about our dealings with the tyrannical regime - women can’t drive, thieves get their hands chopped off, etc - in Saudi Arabia. Last week the White House unveiled an arms deal with Riyadh of close to $30 billion, an agreement that will send 84 F-15 fighter jets and other military hardware to the kingdom. The deal includes spare parts, training and maintenance of the 70 advanced U.S. military aircraft Saudi Arabia already has on hand.

Significant pro-democracy protests have occurred and been repressed in Saudi Arabia’s largely Shiites in Eastern Province all last year.

The only military operation that country has engaged in recently was an invasion, along with United Arab Emirates forces, of neighboring Bahrain to help the autocrats there brutally put down the local version of the Arab Spring.

Oh, Bahrain.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has stoutly defended the administration’s plan to sell $53 million worth of armored Humvees and missiles to the tyrants there. The argument is that the sale is necessary to protect the country’s security. But from whence comes the threat to the tiny nation that would require armored personnel carriers? Nearby Qatar?

There is a threat to the repressive Bahraini regime. Last Friday and Saturday, young people blocked highways throughout the country in protests against the country’s royal family. Activists say a 15-year-old boy died after being hit by a tear gas canister at close range. The weekend clashes were the latest in pro-democracy protests that have occurred regularly since early last year.

Saudi Arabia has also intervened militarily in neighboring Yemen to suppress popular protests against autocratic rule. In November 2009 it staged artillery attacks and sent fighter jets into northern Yemen Thursday in a military incursion apparently aimed at helping its troubled southern neighbor control an escalating local rebellion. “The Saudis – owners of a sophisticated air force they rarely use – have been increasingly worried that extremism and instability in Yemen could spill over to their country, the world's largest oil exporter,” said the Associated Press.

Of Saudi Arabia, last Friday the Jerusalem Post reported:  "In a statement released in Honolulu, where Obama is vacationing, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the kingdom had an important role to play in keeping watch over the region, which has also seen protests and political turmoil in Yemen.”

A White House spokesman boasted last week that the Saudi arms sales would give the US economy a $3.5 billion annual boost and help bolster exports and jobs. Needless to say, that’s not the kind of cynical message many people expected from the Administration they helped elect three years ago. However, it sweet music in the ears of the U.S. armaments s industry.

As if the pot had not been sweetened enough, last week the U.S. sold the United Arab Emirates an advanced antimissile interception system for $3.5 billion as part of what Reuters described as “an accelerating military buildup of its friends and allies near Iran.” The deal includes a contract with Lockheed Martin to produce the highly sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, weapon system. The White House has also formally proposed to sell 600 "bunker buster" bombs and other munitions to UAE for $304.

Lockheed Martin issued a statement saying the company is happy with the U.S.-UAE agreement on the first foreign sale of the THAAD system, Tom McGrath, a company vice president and program manager, said in a release. "We look forward to working with our customers to deliver this important capability," it said.

Needless to say, the official explanation for this rash of arms sales in the Gulf region is, in the words of the Associated Press, “part of a larger U.S. effort to realign its defense policies in the Persian Gulf to keep Iran in check.” The problem here is that Iran is threatening none of its neighbors.  If the concern is Teheran’s nuclear program, fighter jets are unlikely to deter it. That is unless, the sudden accelerated transfer of military hardware is in preparation for the attack on Iran being promoted by hawks in Tel Aviv and Washington.

The aim of this military buildup is to secure the allied regimes in the Middle East, no matter how odious. In the process, matches are being strewn amid a tinderbox.

Jason Ukman of AFP reported that, “the Obama administration has sought to bolster its security relationship with Riyadh, despite their differences over the response to the Arab Spring.”  Whatever those difference might have been, this new level of strategic coordination is really aimed at keeping the popular uprisings in the Arab world from bleeding over into the oil-rich Gulf.

“This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East,” said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.  However, critics of U.S. policy toward the Gulf nations maintain that the arm sales only strengthen the forces of reaction, and that the “increased tensions” cited to justify the closer ties is actually an expression of the popular revolt in the region. And that the arms shipments are intended to prevent its successful spread to the Gulf monarchies.

Evidently, the Obama Administration’s commitment to the notion of “Arab Spring” and promoting “democracy” in the Middle East is quite selective. While acting boldly to shore up the autocracies in the Gulf region, “senior U.S. officials are reported to be quietly preparing options to help dissident groups seeking to topple the reactionary government of Syrian President Bashar Assad,” according to UPI. There are also reports of “a 2,500-person Arab intervention force" – mainly Libyan and Iraqis—on tap in Qatar, ready to invade Syria.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was all about oil, and the current effort to militarily shore up some of the most reactionary regimes in the Middle East is all about oil. The amazing thing is that even after it became obvious that the Iraq war had nothing to do with mythical “weapons of mass destruction,” the U.S. political establishment and the major mass media wouldn’t say it. It’s not that they don’t realize it; they just wouldn’t say it. They won’t connect the trillions of dollars worth of arms now being flooded into the region with petroleum. They still portray the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq as an effort to plant democracy and the current jet fighter sales as an effort to promote “stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East.”

As the new year gets underway, it is quite obvious that U.S. policy and actions, under either the Bush or Obama Administration, has brought anything but “democracy” to Iraq, and the military buildup now underway is hardly going to bring “stability” to that devastated country or to the region. Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Click here to contact Mr. Bloice.

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Jan 5, 2012 - Issue 453
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